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Season Preview: 2019 Indoor Track & Field

By Jacob Knabel on Dec. 12, 2019 in Track & Field

At a glance

Head coach: Matt Beisel (4th year)
2019 indoor finishes: 2nd (GPAC); 9th (NAIA)
2019 outdoor finishes: 3rd (GPAC); 31st (NAIA)
2019 All-Americans returning: Jacob Cornelio (weight throw, hammer); Gavin DeHaai (pole vault); Christian Van Cleave (4x800m relay-in/out); Cody Williams (heptathlon, pole vault).
2019 All-Americans lost: Nathan Matters (4x800m relay-in/out); Josiah McAllister (1,000m, 4x800m relay-in/out); Thomas Taylor (4x800m relay-in/out).
2019 Indoor National Qualifiers returning: Jacob Cornelio (weight throw); Gavin Davis (4x400m relay, 400m); Gavin DeHaai (pole vault); Liam Hennessy (shot put); Kenny Paetow (4x400m relay); Ben Pratt (high jump); Henry Reimer (4x400m relay); Xavier Ross (4x400m relay); Christian Van Cleave (4x800m relay); Cody Williams (heptathlon, pole vault). 

Head coach: Matt Beisel (4th year)
2019 indoor finishes: 1st (GPAC); 9th (NAIA)
2019 outdoor finishes: 1st (GPAC); 5th (NAIA)
2019 All-Americans returning: Rachel Battershell (4x400m relay-in/out); Sarah Lewis (4x400m relay-in/out); Erin Mapson (pole vault-in/out); Tristen Metzger (pole vault); Jacee Pfeifer (4x400m relay-in/out, pole vault); Addie Shaw (weight throw, discus*, hammer).
2019 All-Americans lost: Leah Larson (triple jump); Samantha Liermann (shot put-in/out*); Jamie Nikodym (4x400m relay-in/out); Johanna Ragland (hammer, shot put); Carley Weisser (discus).
2019 Indoor National Qualifiers returning: Rachel Battershell (4x400m relay, 400m); Allie Brooks (pole vault, high jump); Morgan De Jong (weight throw); Jodi Fry (shot put); McKenzie Gravo (pole vault); Sarah Lewis (4x400m relay); Erin Mapson (pole vault); Tristen Mosier (pole vault); Jacee Pfeifer (4x400m relay, pole vault, 400m); Addie Shaw (weight throw, shot put); Adrianna Sims (triple jump).
*National champion

By Jake Knabel, Director of Athletic Communications

Positive momentum continues to build within the Concordia University track and field programs guided by Matt Beisel, now in his fourth season as head coach at his alma mater. Things have been especially rosy on the women’s side with the Bulldogs having swept 2019 GPAC indoor and outdoor titles. That success carried over into this fall with Concordia women’s cross country claiming a conference banner of its own. On the men’s side, the Bulldogs took ninth at the 2019 indoor national meet.

Over the past few years, Beisel and his staff have placed a premium upon restocking the roster with talent across all event areas. Such labor is now bearing fruit for programs that do not have to look far into their past to find team national championships.

Says Beisel, “We all have high hopes. We as coaches have been in this business long enough to know that things don’t always break the way that you want them to, but I think the potential exists for us to be better than last year both in conference and at nationals. It hinges on health and kids performing their best when it’s necessary. Then we see what happens.”

It's safe to say that many within the program are expecting a lot of good things to happen. Twenty-one athletes return who traveled to last year’s indoor national championship meet and 10 All-Americans (indoor and/or outdoor) are back in the fold. There are no GPAC track preseason polls but if there were, both Concordia squads would likely be picked to finish at or near the top of the heap.

The men’s and women’s teams both have at least one headlining megastar, which should be no surprise to those who have followed Bulldog track and field. It makes sense to start by mentioning senior Adrianna Shaw, a two-time discus national champ who could wind up breaking Kali Robb’s weight throw school record this winter. Starring for the men, senior Jacob Cornelio (weight throw) and Cody Williams (heptathlon) were both national runners up at the 2019 NAIA indoor meet.

Starting with the women’s squad, there’s a lot more than just Shaw. The group has experienced so much success that Shaw even called last year’s ninth-place indoor national finish as “rough.” Says Shaw, “We have really high expectations for ourselves. We’re getting to the point where we have to start drilling that into the freshmen’s heads – this is what we’re here for, to do well. Obviously everyone wants to see another conference championship. We can place a lot higher than we did last year (at nationals). We want to get more people to nationals. Individually I’m trying to win more national championships and conference championships. The expectations are high.”

Shaw said goodbye to her national champion sidekick in Samantha Liermann, who graduated after winning three national titles in the shot put. Shaw was joined a year ago at indoor nationals by fellow throwers in returners Morgan De Jong and Jodi Fry. Outdoor All-Americans Johanna Ragland and Carley Weisser have also graduated, meaning there is a void for the younger throwers to step into.

Elsewhere in women’s field events, the Bulldogs feel really good about what they have in the pole vault, an area that includes past All-Americans in Allie Brooks (school record holder in the high jump and pole vault), McKenzie Gravo, Erin Mapson, Jordan (Mosier) Metzger and Jacee Pfeifer. Throw in freshman Josie Puelz, the Nebraska high school all-class state record holder, and one would be hard-pressed to find a better women’s pole vault crew (or men’s – more on that below) in all of the NAIA. Assistant coach Wayne Earney also believes he has several horizontal jumpers capable of breaking school records.

The women’s distance crew also figures to be strong coming off a GPAC title. The top finishers at cross country nationals were Kylahn Heritage, Alyssa Fye and Rebekah Hinrichs. Also on the track, Concordia has three-fourths of its record-breaking 4x400 meter relay back in Rachel Battershell, Sarah Lewis and Pfeifer. Battershell and Lewis are also adept hurdlers along with Kennedy Mogul, a past multi-event national qualifier. Puelz may also join up with a competitive 4x100 meter relay.

The budding distance group should make for a potential national qualifying 4x8 while bolstering the entire team. Said Beisel, “From a national standpoint, I think we have some kids who can qualify for nationals and potentially make All-America honors that we didn’t have last year. From that perspective and the mental excitement from the fall is really setting us up for another event area being strong at the GPAC and national level.”

On to the men, who have exceptional leadership thanks to the likes of Cornelio, who is undoubtedly a national title contender in the weight throw. As a freshman a few years back, Cornelio soaked up what he could from elite throwers like Cody Boellstorff, Zach Lurz and Phil Kreutzer. Now Cornelio is trying to put himself in that class.

“It was a long way coming,” Cornelio said of the progress made by the men’s team as a whole. “My freshman year we had the big three of Cody, Zach and Phil. To reach the top 10 again (at nationals as a team) and be at that caliber, at least close to it, was a good opportunity. It was really cool to see the progress of the team and the level at which the athletes were coming in and how prepared they were to take on the challenges going into every meet. It was really fun. This year we’re just looking for more of that.”

Williams will again be putting his talents to use in many areas as a multi-event standout. He is the reigning GPAC Men’s Outdoor Outstanding Athlete of the Year, which placed him in the company of recent stars like Lurz and Lucas Wiechman. The competition between Williams and transfer Samuel Joseph in the horizontal jumps should be a fun one to watch. In the high jump, Ben Pratt is a returning national qualifier.

Back to the pole vault. The men are also plenty loaded in this category. Williams and Gavin DeHaai are returning All-Americans in the event while others such as Tucker Platt and Sam Sisco have nationals experience. While Puelz is the freshman pole vault phenom for the women, Chase Berry fits that bill for the men. The 2017 Nebraska state champ was one of the top high school vaulters in the country. He now has the opportunity to work alongside his older brother Dalton and with his father and coach, Jason Berry.

On the track, Concordia loses a lot of pieces from its men’s All-American 4x8. Christian Van Cleave is the top returning 800 meter runner on the roster. In the distance events, All-GPAC cross country runner Wyatt Lehr continues to blaze and freshmen Antonio Blaine, Camden Cesna and Owen Dawson will add to that group. National qualifier Gavin Davis is back in the sprints and Beisel has high hopes for Lincoln Lutheran High School product Colton Meyer.

Another freshman to watch is thrower Chris Wren of Fair Oaks, Calif. In sum, it’s a roster that has progressed tremendously on the men’s side. Says Beisel, “We knew that with what we had coming in with successive recruiting classes that we would begin to chip our way back up to where the women were. It’s just taken some patience and some work. In 2018 we had kind of a rough year from (a nationals) perspective. In 2019 our guys got ninth at indoor nationals. This year I think we’re going to be able to get even closer to where we were (regularly in the top five).”

Now a three-time GPAC Coach of the Year in his tenure with the Bulldogs, Beisel hasn’t shied away from big dreams. Faith in the process, and in God, is paying off for Concordia track and field. In 2020, the Bulldogs will be disappointed if they are not competing for conference championships and top-five finishes at the national level.

“If we’re going to be relevant in the GPAC we have to have a bunch of good horizontal jumpers, high jumpers, hurdlers, multi-eventers, throwers and pole vaulters,” Beisel said. “We’ve had a lot of success bringing in good kids across the board so that we have robustness in every event. I think that’s going to play itself out this coming year pretty well … I want to get both our men and women in position to where we can win the GPAC in indoor, outdoor and cross country and have a shot at winning nationals. That’s the goal.”

The Bulldogs will officially open the indoor season this weekend (Dec. 13-14) by hosting the Concordia Early Bird Meet.