Redshirt freshman Jacee Pfeifer admits to having nerves before competing in her first conference meet last week. One would have to imagine Pfeifer had similar emotions festering before she and her teammates took the track at the University of Nebraska’s Devaney Center in Lincoln on Feb. 2. A quartet of Bulldogs was surrounded by athletes from NCAA Division I schools of such prestigious conferences as the Big Ten and Big 12.
Instead of backing down or running scared, Rachel Battershell, Sarah Lewis, Jamie Nikodym and Pfeifer blazed around the track in a time of 3:53.03 in the 4x400 meter relay. Unfortunately, the group was disqualified, but the performance was proof that this relay had something special brewing.
Recalls Nikodym, “Before we ran at UNL, Rachel told us, ‘Proud of you guys no matter what’ – and that quote has kind of become a new battle cry for our 4x400 team. We are so proud of what we accomplished there even if it didn’t really count. We were able to take that pride and confidence in those times and carry it with us into all of our practices and training leading up to conference.”
A couple of weeks prior to the performance at Nebraska, the 4x4 had already broken through with an automatic national qualifying time at the Polar Dog Invite. The bummer in regards to the disqualification at UNL was that the time would have set a new school record. The Bulldogs got over it. With another chance at the GPAC championships on Feb. 16, the group galloped to a conference title winning time of 3:57.55. This one counted – and it eclipsed the previous program standard.
There was a moment of joy and shared celebration for one of the NAIA’s top five rated 4x4’s. Nikodym’s first move was to make sure her teammates knew how proud she was for them. It didn’t take long for each one of them to also begin thinking about the next big thing. They can do better than this.
“As soon as I saw the time, I knew we got it,” Battershell said. “We each knew we had it in us, especially after the UNL meet. I think we all recognized what we did, but we all know we can run a faster time. We are ready for the next opportunity to run – and we are going to bring it.”
It’s not just the school record that makes this group unique and special. In separate interview requests, each one of the four made mention of the role of faith in their successes and how they have been blessed by God in their endeavors. Nikodym takes inspiration from a poster inside the locker room that reads, “I give glory up to God and He rains the blessings down on me.”
Said Lewis, “It’s the support from teammates and the will of God that really helps us run our best.” Added Battershell, “It’s all for God’s glory.” Additionally, Pfeifer said that “I thank God that He has placed me here at Concordia.”
There’s another twist to the dynamic. Three of the four 4x4 members are just freshmen: Battershell, Lewis and Pfeifer. Nikodym is a senior and by far the most experienced. The youth of the group means that this something special is built to last well into the future. The present is already quite bright. In the open 400 meters at the GPAC championships, all four placed in the top seven with Battershell and Pfeifer achieving ‘A’ standard automatic national qualifying times.
They may be just rookies, but it was clear that Battershell, Lewis and Pfeifer would team up to make a formidable 4x4. Battershell, of Wheatland, Wyo., is the lone non-Nebraska native of the bunch. Lewis (Mason City), Nikodym (Red Cloud) and Pfeifer (Holdrege) are all from in-state. Nikodym is thankful to be an integral part of the 4x4. In some ways, she says it has refreshed her this indoor season.
“It’s been remarkable,” said Nikodym of being the veteran leader of the 4x4. “Jacee, Rachel and Sarah all bring very different and equally awesome perspectives to the group. They are a huge burst of energy and enthusiasm to our whole team and give running a new perspective. They have reminded me the reasons that I fell in love with track and especially the Concordia team in the first place.”
There is plenty more that can be accomplished, both in their individual events and as a unit. It’s unprecedented for a group this young to be this good. Consider the 4x4 that formerly held the school indoor record. It was made up of two seniors, a junior and a sophomore. That very same collection of runners (Emily Wolters, Katie Swanson, Charista Zehnder and Bethany Sutton) put together an eye popping 4x4 time of 3:49.27 in outdoor, which remains a school record.
But it’s not safe. Not with this group around. To be frank, it may take a time near 3:50 in order to compete for a national title next week or sometime down the road.
Said Pfeifer, “I am absolutely ecstatic to see what we can accomplish as a 4x4 team and as a team as a whole. After we ran 3:53 at the UNL Invite I think that really gave us the confidence boost we needed going into nationals. I think we can run even faster. We just have to use that confidence and compete like we know we can.”
It's incredible how closely their comments resemble each other’s. It’s safe to say they’re on the same page, united by their faith and common goals. Says Lewis, “The best thing about being a Bulldog at Concordia is my teammates and my coaching staff. They have all pushed me to go farther than I thought I ever could.”
Battershell echoes what she said as the group stood there waiting for their moment inside the Devaney Center. She will take the same approach next week at the national championships in Brookings, S.D. “Regardless of the outcome, we are so blessed,” she says.
Blessed to win a team GPAC title. Blessed to be together. Blessed to be at Concordia. Blessed by God. It all combines to give them great confidence as indoor season comes to a close. Battershell has one more thing: “God willing, that record won’t stand for long.”
The Sanford Jackrabbit Athletic Complex in Brookings will put the 4x4 back underneath the spotlight at the 2019 NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships. For at least four Bulldogs, there will be pride – no matter what.