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Season Preview: 2022 Concordia Outdoor Track & Field

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 22, 2022 in Track & Field

Head Coach:
Matt Beisel (6th year)
2022 Indoor Finishes: 4th (GPAC); 36th (NAIA)
2021 Outdoor Finishes: 4th (GPAC); T-28th (NAIA)
2022 Indoor All-Americans: Jacob Jennings (4x400m relay); Cade Kleckner (4x400m relay); Wyatt Loga (high jump); Maccoy Menke (4x400m relay); Colton Meyer (4x400m relay); Chris Wren (weight throw).

Head Coach:
Matt Beisel (6th year)
2022 Indoor Finishes: 1st (GPAC); 3rd (NAIA)
2021 Outdoor Finishes: 1st (GPAC); 3rd (NAIA)
2022 Indoor All-Americans: Rachel Battershell (4x400m relay); Keri Bauer (4x800m relay); Morgan De Jong (weight throw); Rylee Haecker (1,000m; 4x800m relay); Kylahn Heritage (4x800m relay); Jordan Koepke (600m; 4x400m relay); Sarah Lewis (4x400m relay); Erin Mapson (pole vault); Jacee Pfeifer (4x400m relay); Josie Puelz (pole vault – national champ); Grace Reiman (4x800m relay); Amy Richert (pentathlon).
2021 Outdoor All-Americans returning: Jordyn Anderson (shot put); Rachel Battershell (400m; 4x400m relay); Keri Bauer (4x400m relay); Sara Huss (discus); Mackenzie Koepke (high jump); Sarah Lewis (400 hurdles; 4x400m relay); Erin Mapson (pole vault); Jacee Pfeifer (4x400m relay); Josie Puelz (pole vault – national champ); Sarah Ragland (hammer throw); Amy Richert (heptathlon; high jump).

Ever since the 2022 NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships wrapped up on March 5, the focus for Concordia University Track & Field has shifted to outdoor season. Following eight weekends of indoor competition, Bulldog athletes got only a short break before ramping things back up for the start of outdoor action this week. Typically, the dynamics of outdoor season have favored the Bulldogs and their perennially strong group of throwers. Championship aspirations are the norm for a women’s program that has celebrated titles at each of the past six GPAC championship meets.

This past indoor season, Head Coach Matt Beisel’s squads turned in national place finishes of third on the women’s side and 36th on the men’s side. The Bulldogs also put forth GPAC placements of first for the women and fourth for the men.

One incredible streak remains intact entering outdoor season. Concordia has placed at least one athlete on the national championship podium in each of the past seven NAIA outdoor national meets. The Bulldogs hope to extend that streak while making progress from the indoor season.

Said Beisel following indoor nationals, “We learned some things about ourselves this indoor season, on both the men’s and women's sides, that are going to make a huge difference when it comes to outdoor. The question on the women’s side is – can we win (the national title)? For the men, can we move up? We add in the hammer, the javelin, the discus and other events we don’t have for indoor.”

Led by the likes of Rachel Battershell and Josie Puelz, the women’s program remains a behemoth on the national stage. Dating back to 2014, the Bulldogs have placed no lower than 12th at any national championship meet. What Puelz has achieved is something truly special. While winning her third career pole vault national title a few weeks ago, Puelz became the third Concordia female athlete in school history to win at least three individual national titles, joining Carol Bailey (eight) and Samantha Liermann (three). Puelz already owns school records in the indoor and outdoor pole vault.

The women’s roster is loaded with veteran performers who are used to winning at an exceptionally high level. Current Bulldogs who possess multiple career All-America awards include Battershell (nine), Sarah Lewis (seven), Jacee Pfeifer (six), Erin Mapson (five), Rylee Haecker (four), Puelz (four), Morgan De Jong (three), Amy Richert (three), Keri Bauer (two), Kylahn Heritage (two), Jordan Koepke (two), Sarah Ragland (two) and Grace Reiman (two).

Puelz and Mapson give the Bulldogs the nation’s best one-two punch in the women’s pole vault. Everyone expects a lot from Puelz, and yet she always seems to come through with the spotlight on her. Said Puelz after her third national title, “It is what you make of it. There certainly is a lot of pressure and expectations that come with it, so that caused a little bit of stress. Having Erin here to be encouraged by so my focus isn’t on myself is just wonderful.”

While Battershell and Puelz have made their mark as national champions, observers should watch out for rising stars in Haecker, Koepke and Richert. At indoor nationals, Haecker and Koepke both turned in third-place finishes in individual events while also helping relays to All-America claims. As for Richert, she’s one of the team’s best all-around athletes and is coming off a sixth-place finish in the heptathlon a year ago. In addition, Battershell and Lewis have more hurdles events to shine in during outdoor season.

On the men’s side of things, the Bulldogs showed improvement at indoor nationals while outperforming the projections. As one of the best feel-good stories of that meet, the 4x400 meter relay persevered through injuries and other unique circumstances and placed eighth (seeded 16th). The All-American 4x4 included Jacob Jennings, Cade Kleckner, Maccoy Menke and Colton Meyer. In addition, Wyatt Loga (high jump) and Chris Wren (weight throw) garnered All-America awards. There’s a big void to fill with two-time national champion Jacob Cornelio having exhausted his eligibility at the 2021 outdoor national meet.

Concordia is happy to have Jennings around for one more outdoor season. Said the former Bulldog Basketball player, “I had the option to be done last year, but I just thought, why not? This is a really special thing. I’m not going to be able to do this again. It’s with a group of people that I really, really like. I can be myself and just have lots of fun. This is a great set up for outdoor and I’m really excited about what we can do.”

The men’s squad is deep with 400 meter runners, brings back two past pole vault All-Americans (Zach Bennetts and Chase Berry) and boasts a couple of cross country national qualifiers (Calvin Rohde and Camden Sesna) as starring distance runners. Rohde put together a fine indoor season that saw him qualify for nationals individually in the 1,000 meters and the mile. Sesna is a strong candidate to reach nationals in the steeplechase. In the throws, Andy Amos, Dagne’ Buck, Ben Moll and Wren are each returning national qualifiers from last outdoor season.

On the women’s side of the throws, Concordia should have plenty of depth once again. Also a member of the volleyball team, Sara Huss earned an All-America award in the discus. In addition, Sarah Ragland will look to move up after placing third nationally in the hammer throw in 2021. Other returning throws national qualifiers from the 2021 outdoor season are Jordyn Anderson (shot put All-American), De Jong, Abigail Gerber, Elle Luehr, Alli Owings and Erin Painter. This group said goodbye to national champions Addie Shaw and Liz Stottlemyre.

In outdoor track, the throwing events include the shot put, discus, hammer and javelin. On the track, the steeplechase is unique to outdoor and so are the longer hurdle events, the 4x100 meter relay and the 10k. With the combined depth across the board for Concordia, the men’s and women’s teams could push the number of athletes (37) they sent to Gulf Shores, Ala., in 2021. Throughout most of the 2021 outdoor season, the Bulldog women were ranked No. 1 in the NAIA by the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

Including the conference and national championships, Concordia is scheduled to appear at 11 meets throughout the 2022 outdoor season. It all starts on Saturday (March 26) with the Grand View Viking Relays in Des Moines, Iowa. There will be two home meets: the Concordia Outdoor Invite (April 8-9) and the Concordia Twilight Meet (May 13). Doane will host the GPAC outdoor championship meet and Gulf Shores will again be the destination for nationals.