It’s not that Concordia University track and field really went anywhere, it’s just that the 2015 and 2016 seasons changed the game. Those team national championship campaigns blew the top off of what many may have believed to be the ceiling for the program. The red banners hanging from the east wall of the Fieldhouse serve as a constant reminder of what is possible.
In an interview on Wednesday, school triple jump record holder Leah Larson did not shy away from discussing the women’s team’s potential to win another championship. Clearly head coach Matt Beisel’s squads have reason to be confident considering they have combined to compile 21 automatic national qualifying marks and 11 ‘B’ standards through the first three weeks of the indoor season.
“We saw the potential for this last season,” Beisel said of the early success. “I’ve said I thought our girls could be a top three team nationally looking at who’s coming back and what our freshmen are able to do. I’m not as surprised by the women. The guys are a pleasant surprise to me because last year we tied for 42nd at indoor nationals and tied for 69th at outdoor nationals. In the preseason I would have been happy with top 25 or top 30. I felt like we were going to be better. All of the sudden we’re having some things happen where we’re performing really well.”
The computer ratings put out by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) are a reflection of the splash the Bulldogs have made so far. In the latest set of NAIA national rankings announced on Wednesday (Jan. 30), Concordia came in at No. 2 for both men and women. On both sides, the Bulldogs are sandwiched in between Indiana Tech at No. 1 and conference rival Doane at No. 3.
The popular sentiment among coaches is that any ratings put out in the middle of the season are mostly meaningless. But perhaps this is a signal that Concordia is ready to get back into title contention after a coaching change and a roster transformation. In terms of sheer roster quantity, the program has never been this big. However, it’s the quality of roster depth that makes the Bulldogs a national player.
“It’s something that generates excitement within our team and the community that supports our team,” Beisel said of the No. 2 national rankings. “It’s fun to be able to talk with the kids we’re recruiting right now about where our team is at. A lot can happen though. You can never count on anything, but there’s an enthusiasm and excitement that has really been catching on over the last couple of weeks.”
There is further data to illustrate what has been brewing since the calendar flipped to 2019. The USTFCCCA also breaks down the NAIA and each level of the NCAA by event groupings. Among NAIA programs, the Concordia women boast No. 1 national rankings in the events of pole vault, triple jump, shot put and weight throw. Impressively, the Bulldog women’s pole vault crew has already qualified five individuals for the national championships. The squad also features two-time shot put national champion Samantha Liermann and the current weight throw national leader in Addie Shaw (2018 discus national champ).
While the men are not No. 1 currently in any event groupings, they do have the NAIA leader in the 1,000 meters in Josiah McAllister and boast a bevy of other highly rated competitors. Budding sophomore Cody Williams vaulted all the way to No. 2 in the NAIA in the heptathlon courtesy of his efforts at the Concordia Classic, two-time All-American Jacob Cornelio is No. 4 in the weight throw and the 4x400 meter relay group, anchored by McAllister, also sits fourth nationally. The men also have a deep pole vault core led by the likes of Williams and Gavin DeHaai.
How all of this translates to the GPAC and NAIA national championships is yet to be determined. It’s far from uncommon for athletes to outperform or underperform at the season’s most significant events. In recent years, the Concordia track and field programs have made a habit of excelling at the national level. ‘Everyone’ in the NAIA knows about the Bulldog throws program (14 individual throws national titles since 2014) under assistant coach Ed McLaughlin.
The aim is to keep that throws program on that level and elevate other areas. To this point, the work done by the staff of Beisel, McLaughlin, Mark Samuels, Wayne Earney and Jason Berry and the large roster of athletes is paying off.
Says Beisel, “There’s a dawning comprehension of what could be with our men and our women – not just at nationals but within conference. It’s fun to hope and to dream, but we still have to do the work. It’s going to take everyone doing their part and performing when it matters to accomplish our goals.”