Head coach: Matt Beisel (2nd year)
2017 indoor finishes: 2nd (GPAC); 2nd (NAIA)
2017 outdoor finishes: 2nd (GPAC); 5th (NAIA)
2017 All-Americans returning: Nathan Matters (4x400m relay); Jake Rodgers (4x400m relay).
2017 All-Americans lost: Cody Boellstorff (*weight throw, *hammer, discus); Philip Kreutzer (hammer); Zach Lurz (*shot put-2, weight throw, hammer, discus); CJ Muller (600 meters, 4x400m relay); Lucas Wiechman (*heptathlon, *pole vault, 60 meter hurdles, 400 hurdles, 4x400m relay).
Head coach: Matt Beisel (2nd year)
2017 indoor finishes: 4th (GPAC); 7th (NAIA)
2017 outdoor finishes: 3rd (GPAC); 6th (NAIA)
2017 All-Americans returning: Allie Brooks (pole vault); McKenzie Gravo (pole vault); Samantha Liermann (*shot put-2); Adrianna Shaw (shot put); Bethany Shaw (discus).
2017 All-Americans lost: Sydney Meyer (weight throw, hammer); Kali Robb (weight throw, shot put, hammer); Tricia Svoboda (javelin, discus).
Perhaps the most accomplished senior class in the history of Concordia track and field has moved on. Meanwhile, the work of second-year head coach Matt Beisel and his staff on the recruiting trail led to a school record incoming recruiting class that numbers 74 athletes strong. With so many new faces, Beisel and company had no time to waste during a fall season that saw the distance groups make strides on the cross country paths.
The newcomers will be given every opportunity to make an immediate impact. They will be counted upon to help lessen the sting that comes from the losses of multiple national championship winners in throwers Cody Boellstorff and Zach Lurz and all-around phenomenal athlete Lucas Wiechman. On the women’s side, 10-time All-American thrower Kali Robb has graduated.
Beisel doesn’t want those departures to be used as excuses. Others will be expected to pick up the slack. Says Beisel, “You can hash and dash all the results and all the points we lost from our seniors, but we have a tradition of doing everything possible to position us to be a conference champion and to go onto nationals and place highly there. I don’t think we talk with them about anything different. We’re in it to win it.”
The women bring back the most firepower with returning All-Americans in the pole vault (Allie Brooks and McKenzie Gravo) and in the throws (Samantha Liermann, Adrianna Shaw and Bethany Shaw). On the men’s side, the only returners to taste All-American glory in 2017 were Nathan Matters and Jake Rodgers, both members of the 4x400 meter relay that placed sixth at last season’s indoor national championships.
Assistant coach Ed McLaughlin has been careful to remind himself to exercise patience with his group of throwers. He admits he’s been “spoiled” in recent years by the run of conference and national champions. No need to take pity. The Bulldogs appear to be loaded in the women’s shot put where Liermann is the defending outdoor national champion. One of her biggest competitors for another shot put national title could be sophomore teammate Adrianna Shaw, a national runner up in the 2017 indoor shot put. Junior Johanna Ragland is also a returning national qualifier in the event.
Other returning throwers with experience at the national championships include senior Jan Steinbrueck and juniors Jazzy Eickhoff, Jacy Embray and Carley Skopera on the women’s side and the lone men’s national qualifying holdover in the throws, sophomore JC Cornelio. A native of Elk Grove, Calif., Cornelio excites McLaughlin with his tantalizing potential. He qualified for outdoor nationals in the hammer and discus.
Said McLaughlin, “He actually threw farther with a college hammer than a high school hammer. The big thing with him is trying to get hammer consistency and to keep getting stronger, which he did. He worked hard this summer. He worked hard this fall. He’s definitely taken a massive leadership role on the team. He’s done some amazing things for us. He had a great intrasquad meet.”
McLaughlin also likes what he sees from several freshmen such as Zach Christensen (Hastings, Neb.), Jake Dack (Parker, Colo.), Morgan De Jong (Orange City, Iowa), Jodi Fry (Ewing, Neb.), Joe Gomez (Laredo, Texas), Madison Holt (Elk Grove, Calif.) and Sarah Ragland (Rocky River, Ohio), among others. The talent exists. Now it’s about development and refining of technique.
Said Liermann of the female throwers, “I think we should be pretty good this year. It’s kind of been a slow start in the beginning. I think half this year’s squad is freshmen so it took some adjusting. At the intrasquad meet we had some pretty good marks from people. I’m excited to see how some of the underclassmen step up.”
Like the women’s shot put, the pole vault figures to be an area of strength. Though All-American Allie Brooks is redshirting in order preserve eligibility for a fifth year, Concordia will feature another All-American in McKenzie Gravo, a two-time GPAC titlist, as well as national qualifiers in sophomore Tristen Mosier and junior Tyrell Reichert. Pole vault coach Jason Berry and the staff also like the progress of the incoming class that includes hometown Seward natives in the form of Jason’s son Dalton and Anna Baack, the daughter of Concordia head athletic trainer Randy Baack.
One of the best pure athletes on the men’s side is Ben Hulett, a national qualifier last season in the 110 meter hurdles and the 60 meter hurdles. With Wiechman gone, Hulett will have his opportunity to be the star. The top returning hurdler on the women’s side is junior Jamie Nikodym. Concordia has earned a reputation for producing excellent hurdlers under the guidance of assistant coach Mark Samuels. Hulett expects that tradition to continue.
“We have a good freshman class in the hurdles,” Hulett said. “Cody (Williams) and a few other guys are putting up pretty good times for where they started off at. A lot of them didn’t have a lot of experience in the hurdles, but Coach Samuels is bringing them along pretty well. I feel like we’ll stack up a lot of points. On my end, I expect to do well. I expect to lead the GPAC and go compete at nationals, just like Concordia hurdlers do every year.”
Beisel also believes the addition of another full-time staff member, Wayne Earney (previously an assistant at the University of Sioux Falls), will provide a boost. Earney works specifically with horizontal jumpers and also coordinates speed development for athletes in other event areas such as the high jumps and pole vault. Earney should help improve the performances of athletes like senior Scott Johnson, a 2017 indoor national qualifier in the long jump. Earney’s work will extend to multi-event performers. One multi-eventer already drawing rave reviews is Williams, a freshman from Imperial, Neb., who could make a push for nationals as a rookie.
Undeniably, there are plenty of unknowns for a program with so many freshmen. However, the Blue-White intrasquad back on Dec. 2 enhanced the confidence of Beisel’s young teams. He gushes about what those youthful Bulldogs bring to the table. That group includes Seward High School product Mika Brees, a two-time state gold medalist, among other Bluejay alums.
“We had an amazing recruiting year last year,” Beisel said. “These are awesome young men and women. These are kids that are going to be impact players. These are kids who were state champions and state runner-ups who come in as leaders who care about other people. They fit right in with our upperclassmen. We’ve already seen some amazing things happen. We brought in some good throwers to begin to replace the ones that we lost. We also brought in good pole vaulters, good sprinters, good middle distance runners, good distance runners and good hurdlers.”
On the track, Beisel continues to work on progressing a distance group that seeks a return to glory. The school’s top cross country runners this season were Emily Deschaine for the women and Thomas Taylor for the men. Additionally, the program has a strong tradition in the relays. The 2017 All-America men’s 4x4 must replace CJ Muller and Wiechman.
From a conference perspective, there’s hope that Concordia will begin to have more balanced scoring across event groupings while still featuring top-of-the-line athletes on a national scale. At the 2017 GPAC indoor championships, the Bulldogs finished second on the men’s side and fourth on the women’s side. Though some big names are gone, Beisel and company have their sights set on getting back to the top of the conference.
Said Beisel, “Our expectation is we win conference – or die trying. The most important thing in our program is that our focus is on Christ and that we work on the relationships within our team. It doesn’t mean we’re going to win every year, but we’re not going to be satisfied unless we do. There has been a lot of sacrifice made in the last three months of cross country and fall track to position ourselves to do that. We have such great competitors in the GPAC. The stakes are always high and we always push hard.”
The indoor season is set to officially get started the weekend of Jan. 12-13 with the University of Nebraska Holiday Inn Invite (Jan. 12-13) and the Nisely Invite (Jan. 13) hosted by Doane. The conference indoor championships will be staged by Doane on Feb. 16-17. The NAIA indoor national championships shift this season to Pittsburg, Kan. (March 1-3).