SEWARD, Neb. – Concordia University’s top-10 nationally ranked track and field programs hit the big stage on Thursday when day one of three of the 2014 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships kick start in Gulf Shores, Ala. The championships will be contested inside Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium for the first time in the history of the event.
Coming off top-20 national finishes at the indoor championships in March, 22nd-year head coach Kregg Einspahr and the Bulldogs have their sights set on moving up the NAIA ladder.
“I feel good about things,” Einspahr said. “I think we can score well at the national meet and come back with two top-10 finishes. That’s our goal. Whether or not we’ll end up in those positions – that’s why we get out there and throw the hammer and scratch the line in the dirt and run the races. We’ll see what happens.”
Of the 39 competitors (22 men, 17 women) that Concordia has sent to Gulf Shores, 32 have prior national championships experience. Those 32 have a combined 54 All-America honors with Jena Schwalenberg (six) and John Cartier (five) possessing the most individual claims on the national stage. The rookies include Matthew Chapa (4x800 meter relay), Philip Kreutzer (shot put), Jordan Larrington (hammer), Josh Slechta (hammer), Kattie Cleveland (discus), Alayna Daberkow (4x800 meter relay) and Katricia Svoboda (discus).
Senior Ben Hinckfoot returns to the outdoor championships to run the same three events he captured All-American claims in last year: 110 meter hurdles, 400 meter hurdles and 4x400 meter relay. Coming off a GPAC title in the 400 hurdles, the native of Colorado Springs isn’t shy about detailing his lofty goals.
“I was able to be All-American in all three (last year) and I’d like to do that again this year,” Hinckfoot said. “The real goal is the 400 hurdles. I have a real shot at winning it and the goal is to be a national champion. That will be my main focus for the weekend.”
Both Concordia squads appear to have advantages specific to outdoor track. The men are loaded in the hammer throw with Cody Boellstorff (3rd in the NAIA), Zach Lurz (6th), Trey Farmer (15th), Ben Schulteis (16th), Josh Slechta (17th) and Larrington (20th) all taking part in the event.
Lurz, who ranks in the top six of the discus, hammer and shot, has taken the GPAC by storm this season. He’s one of seven men’s throwers headed down south for the weekend.
“Being a part of this team is the best thing I have here at Concordia,” Lurz said. “Everyone is just as driven as I am to get better and that just makes the team, and me, that much better. It doesn't matter what event I'm watching, there is no weak point. It's awesome to be a part of something like this.”
Based on the national lists, the Concordia men are also well-positioned to grab All-America finishes in the 4x400 meter relay and the pole vault (Carson Farr – indoor All-American). The 4x4 of CJ Muller, Alex Heiden, Hinckfoot and Cartier posted a national qualifying time of 3:14.09 at the Drake Relays, and they believe they know they are capable of better this weekend.
The headliner on the women’s side is Liz King, a 2013 outdoor All-American, who continues to excel at a level not seen before by a Concordia javelin thrower. King is the national leader in the event with her mark of 166’ 11” for a women’s squad that is rated seventh in the NAIA by the USTFCCCA.
“Ranking is just a number,” King said. “My goal for Nationals is to compete. I am excited to see some really good throwing by some great girls. The trick is that it is one meet and anything can happen. Someone could get hurt, someone might be sick or someone could have an incredible day. Being ranked at a top position gives me a target on my back.”
The Bulldog women have their most competitors in the shot put with Stephanie Coley (fifth in the NAIA), Kali Robb (14th), Jamie Crouse (21st) and Brittany Erdmann (27th). In three national championships appearances, Coley has never failed to reach All-America placement in the shot put.
On the other hand, Crouse takes aim at her sixth career All-America honor and third-straight in the hammer throw. Crouse teams with Robb to give the Bulldogs a pair of potential high scorers in the hammer.
After running in three different events at the indoor national championships, school record-breaking sophomore Kim Wood may concentrate solely on the 800 meter run this weekend. Now a veteran of the national championships experience, the native of Greeley, Neb., may be primed for her best performance yet in the 800.
“I think indoor nationals gave me a really good experience,” Wood said. “I was in a lot of events and I think that really prepared me in a national meet. It’s really different than anything that we do here, even conference. It’s really exciting. It’s an energetic atmosphere. You just want to go out and give it your all. I think I’ll be in better control of my nerves and better prepared mentally.”
In the women’s pole vault, both junior Shelby Yelden and senior Kellie Fegter will represent Concordia at nationals. Yelden has appeared near the top of the NAIA leaderboard all season and currently ranks second with her personal best of 12’ 2.” Fegter, a 2010 All-American, makes her return to nationals after being sidelined by injury last season.
In the heptathlon, school record holder Sara Simmons will push for her first top-eight finish at a national championship. She will be joined in the event by senior Lydia Pomerenke, who vies for her second-straight heptathlon All-America claim.
All of the National Championship events from Gulf Shores, Ala., will be video-streamed live for $5.95. Click Here for more information.
Sweet home Alabama
What the Bulldogs say about heading to Alabama for the first time:
-Head coach Kregg Einspahr:
We’ve got kids that will react well. The photos I’ve seen online look like it’s a real nice venue. It’s a venue that’s hosted their state track and field championships. It looks like a real nice facility – a national caliber facility. I’m pleased with that. I think we’re going to get down there and perform very well. Everybody has to compete at the same venue.
-Senior Jonathon Becker:
It should be warm. That will be new. Last year we had a cold spell for a day or two, which was normal to us. Alabama is going to be humid most likely with possible rain. That will be different – just the extent of the heat and humidity. It’s also a little bit longer drive, but it’s nothing totally outside the realm of what we’ve experienced. We’re looking forward to running at a new place and experiencing new things.
-Senior Ben Hinckfoot
I’ve been to Indiana three times and I felt comfortable there and I knew what was going on. It will be an interesting experience going somewhere new but it’s exciting. There are going to be a lot of possibilities. We’re right on a beach which you can’t complain about that. It’s going to be a new experience and one that I’m looking forward to.
-Sophomore Kim Wood:
I think we’re all excited to change it up and have a change of scenery. It’s on the ocean which will be fun. It will be interesting to be down there. I’m kind of curious to see how humid and hot it will be. It might be a little bit difficult to run in but I think we’re all excited. It’s always fun to go somewhere different.
Men’s outdoor national finishes since 2005
Women’s outdoor national finishes since 2005