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Season Preview: 2023 Concordia Outdoor Track & Field

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 22, 2023 in Track & Field

Head Coach: Matt Beisel (7th year)
2023 Indoor Finishes: 3rd (GPAC); T-31st (NAIA)
2022 Outdoor Finishes: 3rd (GPAC); T-47th (NAIA)
2023 Indoor All-Americans: Zach Bennetts (pole vault); Zach Zohner (pole vault).
2022 Outdoor All-Americans returning: Colton Meyer (4x400m relay); Chris Wren (hammer throw).

Head Coach: Matt Beisel (7th year)
2023 Indoor Finishes: 1st (GPAC); 6th (NAIA)
2022 Outdoor Finishes: 1st (GPAC); 4th (NAIA)
2023 Indoor All-Americans: Rachel Battershell (4x400m relay); Jenna Esch (4x400m relay); Kylahn Freiberg (1,000 meters); Abby Gerber (shot put); Rylee Haecker (1,000 meters); Jordan Koepke (4x400m relay); Erin Mapson (pole vault); Josie Puelz (pole vault – national champ); Trinity Tuls (4x400m relay).
2022 Outdoor All-Americans returning: Rachel Battershell (4x400m relay); Jenna Esch (4x400m relay); Rylee Haecker (4x800m relay; 1,500 meters); Kylahn Freiberg (4x800m relay); Jordan Koepke (400 hurdles; 4x400m relay); Alli Owings (hammer throw); Erin Painter (discus); Josie Puelz (pole vault – national champ).


Some time off during spring break allowed for a brief chance to exhale following the conclusion of the 2022-23 indoor season. Now members of the Concordia University Track & Field program have shifted focus to the outdoor season that will get underway on Saturday with a meet hosted by Grand View University. Eleven Bulldogs are coming off indoor All-America performances with many more hopeful of reaching the podium in late May.

As has become the standard, the women’s program celebrated a GPAC championship this 2023 indoor season while claiming Concordia’s eighth conference meet title in a row. Meanwhile, the men placed third in the conference and have shown signs that they are progressing closer to GPAC title contention.

Said seventh-year Head Coach Matt Beisel, “We have a lot of hope for outdoor season. Part of that hope is because we have a lot of athletes on our team whose best events are exclusive to outdoor track – the steeplechase, the javelin, the discus, the hammer and the 400 hurdles. For some of our very best athletes, those are their glory events. I think that outdoor provides us more opportunities to get people to nationals who can be All-Americans. I’m excited about the prospects. I also feel those things come into play pretty heavily at the conference level. When it comes to the discus, the hammer and the javelin, those are three events where we can have success. There are some cool things coming up.”

NAIA outdoor team national championships have been won by the Bulldogs as recently as 2016 on the women’s side and 2015 on the men’s side. In other words, the loftiest of achievements are attainable when it comes to Concordia Track & Field. Instead of striving to reach Gulf Shores, Ala., Bulldog athletes will now shoot for marks that earn them trips to Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Ind., the new location of the NAIA outdoor national championships. Earlier this month, 32 Concordia standouts made their way to Brookings, S.D., for the NAIA indoor meet.

In addition, 59 Bulldogs garnered 2023 GPAC indoor all-conference accolades, a sign of the depth Beisel and his coaching staff have built up within the program. Most decorated among those athletes is Josie Puelz, now a five-time NAIA national champion. She has won three-straight NAIA indoor pole vault titles and will go for three in a row in outdoor.

Said Beisel of Puelz, “Josie is one of the best people I know. She exemplifies every positive quality you can possibly think of as a person, as a leader and as a teammate. If anyone’s deserving of another national title, it’s her. She has really high expectations for herself and is someone who doesn’t want to let others down, particularly the team.”

The pole vault crew is an undeniable strength for the Bulldogs, who swept 2023 GPAC indoor championships (Puelz and Zach Bennetts) and then had the NAIA national runner up on the men’s side (Zach Zohner) while qualifying eight total vaulters for nationals. Bennetts and Erin Mapson joined Puelz and Zohner on the All-America stand in Brookings. Coach Jason Berry has built up arguably the nation’s best pole vault crew. At the 2023 GPAC indoor meet, the group combined for 32 points on the women’s side and 28.5 points on the men’s side.

Other All-Americans that came out of indoor nationals were the women’s 4x400 meter relay group of Rachel Battershell (11 career All-America awards), Jenna Esch, Jordan Koepke and Trinity Tuls and Kylahn Freiberg (1,000 meter national runner up), Abby Gerber (shot put) and Rylee Haecker (1,000 meters). Freiberg and Zohner were the two major underdog stories who emerged as national runners up, far exceeding their seed marks entering the meet. The women’s 4x4 should vie for All-America honors once again while the men’s 4x4 has the potential to reach nationals. That crew is led by Colton Meyer, a three-time All-American.

This will be the final season of competition for Battershell, who will go down as another legend in program history. Said the two-time 400-meter national champion prior to indoor season, “With sports like this, you’ve never arrived. There are certain goals like being a national champion – you either get it or you don’t. With PR’s and everything, you’ve never arrived. There’s always another step to get better. With teammates that I have, how can you not want to be better? That helps me keep perspective as I push to be the best that I can be in the last year that I get to do this.”

Battershell won the GPAC indoor 400-meter title and will attempt to do the same this spring as she closes out her track career. The following Bulldogs will be looking to defend their 2022 GPAC outdoor titles: Bennetts (pole vault), Haecker (1,500 meters), Koepke (400 hurdles), Puelz (pole vault) and Camden Sesna (5,000 meters). Koepke made a big splash at the ’22 conference outdoor championships by breaking the GPAC meet record with a time of 59.90 in the 400 hurdles. Koepke and her 4x4 teammates reset the outdoor school record at both the GPAC and NAIA championships.

Concordia hopes to capitalize on its depth in the throws this spring. The throws become a bigger factor with four events in play. Returning 2022 throws All-Americans include Alli Owings (hammer throw), Erin Painter (discus) and Chris Wren (hammer throw). In addition, Sara Huss emerged as a discus All-American in 2021. In the javelin, the Bulldogs have a new Stottlemyre on board. Gretchen Stottlemyre is the younger sister of 2021 NAIA javelin national champion Liz Stottlemyre.

The depth on the women’s side is seemingly endless. Only a freshman, Adrianna Rodencal won GPAC Athlete of the Year honors for indoor and could score points in bunches again at the outdoor conference meet. Rodencal won two GPAC indoor titles and is the leader of a hurdle group that includes Battershell and Koepke.

In the jumps, Amy Richert (2023 GPAC pentathlon champion) and Wyatt Loga have both earned past All-America awards (high jump) and Joel Rathe (indoor long jump national qualifier) continues to come on in the horizontal jumps. A sophomore from Crete, Neb., Hannah Newton has the ability to put herself in All-America territory at some point in her career.

Haecker and Freiberg are the headliners from a women’s distance perspective. On the men’s side, Rohde and Sesna also provide a stellar 1-2 punch. This past GPAC meet did not go in Rohde’s favor, but he put together a phenomenal indoor campaign that saw him collect two GPAC athlete of the week awards and qualify for nationals in two individual events. Rohde and Sesna have been working their way towards claiming individual All-America status.

Many other individuals not mentioned above will have a considerable impact on what the 2023 outdoor season ultimately looks like. It may be a chilly start to the season this Saturday in Des Moines, but there are plenty of upcoming meets in April and May that will hopefully come with more desirable conditions. The Bulldogs are scheduled to be represented at 11 meets this spring when counting both the GPAC and NAIA national championships. Indiana Wesleyan was awarded the opportunity to host the national meet after it had been held in Gulf Shores going back to 2014. The complete schedule can be found HERE.

Live results for the Viking Relays can be followed via https://racetheclocktiming.anet.live/meets/21889.