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Season Preview: 2024 Concordia Indoor Track & Field

By Jacob Knabel on Dec. 15, 2023 in Track & Field

Head Coach: Matt Beisel (8th year); 10x GPAC Coach of the Year
2023 Indoor Finishes: 3rd (GPAC); 31st (NAIA)
2023 Outdoor Finishes: 3rd (GPAC); 26th (NAIA)
Past All-Americans returning (indoor/outdoor): Austen Rozelle (1); Darien Semedo (1); Chris Wren (3); Zach Zohner (2).
2023 All-Americans lost (indoor/outdoor): Zach Bennetts.
2023 Indoor National Qualifiers returning (indoor/outdoor): Joel Rathe; Calvin Rohde; Austen Rozelle; Darien Semedo; Chris Wren; Zach Zohner.
--NOTE: list of national qualifiers includes athletes who traveled to the 2023 NAIA indoor/outdoor meets.

Head Coach: Matt Beisel (8th year); 10x GPAC Coach of the Year
2023 Indoor Finishes: 1st (GPAC); 6th (NAIA)
2023 Outdoor Finishes: 1st (GPAC); 23rd (NAIA)
Past All-Americans returning (indoor/outdoor): Jenna Esch (3); Kylahn Freiberg (4); Abigail Gerber (1); Rylee Haecker (8); Jordan Koepke (5); Josi Noble (1); Alli Owings (1); Erin Painter (1); Josie Puelz (7); Amy Richert (3); Trinity Tuls (2).
2023 All-Americans lost (indoor/outdoor): Rachel Battershell; Erin Mapson.
2023 National Qualifiers returning (indoor/outdoor): Keegan Beisel; Erin Boggs; Amira Cummings; Lauren Dawson; Jenna Esch; Kylahn Freiberg; Abigail Gerber; Rylee Haecker; Rhaya Kaschinske; Kayla Kirchner; Jordan Koepke; Emma Lloyd; Josi Noble; Alli Owings; Erin Painter; Kamryn Pokorney; Josie Puelz; Kellie Rhodes; Amy Richert; Adrianna Rodencal; Gretchen Stottlemyre; Kayla Svoboda; Trinity Tuls; Abi Wohlgemuth.
--NOTE: list of national qualifiers includes athletes who traveled to the 2023 NAIA indoor/outdoor meets.


If the Bulldog Early Bird Meet (held Dec. 8-9) is any indication, Concordia University Track & Field is in for a phenomenal 2023-24 indoor season. Bulldog athletes have already combined for 18 automatic national qualifying standards while looking like a group in mid-season form. No doubt, the expectation will be for both the men’s and women’s teams to compete at the top of the always rugged Great Plains Athletic Conference. This past year, the Concordia women kept their streak of GPAC titles alive while the men placed third in the conference for both indoor and outdoor.

Now a 10-time GPAC Coach of the Year, Matt Beisel sees a program coming together in the ways he would have hoped for when he first returned to his alma mater in 2016. Beisel and his staff bring back a roster that has combined for 43 career All-America awards.

There’s a reason why the Concordia track programs continue to be recognized prominently on a national level. Says Beisel, “I think there’s consistency across our coaching staff. We meet weekly and talk about what we want to do. We know each other really well and have worked together for years. I think we’re all on the same page with how we talk to and mentor our athletes and how we get them to think about what we do this for. We’re always working to produce programs that achieve competitive greatness as one piece of what we are trying to do. Competitive greatness takes a mindset and a culture. It’s a great combination where people are intensely working to accomplish big things and having a lot of fun together. That’s something we as a staff have been working towards and continuing to develop that culture. That’s a magical combination.”

Indeed, Beisel has an experienced team of core assistant coaches to lean upon in Ed McLaughlin, Mark Samuels, Ben Hinckfoot and Jason Berry (current graduate assistants are Maddie Wachowski and Lia Guigui). Collectively, they’ve collaborated on nine-consecutive GPAC championships for the women’s program, regular top-five team placements at the national meet and a truckload of All-America plaques. The ‘magical combination’ that Beisel speaks of has helped make Concordia a destination landing spot for star athletes within the state of Nebraska and beyond. As Beisel would also say, it’s not just about the accolades for a place built on a foundation of Christian character.

Commitment to Christian faith and athletic excellence has been a hallmark for each of the upper echelon Bulldogs of recent years on the women’s side. Concordia said goodbye to five-year standouts such as Rachel Battershell and Erin Mapson, but the cupboard remains well-stocked. The conversation starts with five-time pole vault national champion and school record holder Josie Puelz and continues with other multiple-time All-Americans in Jenna Esch, Kylahn Freiberg, Rylee Haecker, Jordan Koepke, Amy Richert and Trinity Tuls.

They help set a standard that younger Bulldogs entering the program have no choice but to respect. Stromsburg, Neb., native Josi Noble is a rising star as a sophomore on this year’s roster. Said Noble, “It’s not even the winning that makes this program special. It’s how close we are. We’re a sisterhood and we all support each other. We know each other outside of track. It’s not just about track and winning. Even if we weren’t a winning team, we would all be close and so supportive of each other. That’s what makes it special.”

An All-American as part of the outdoor 4x400 meter relay last season, Noble is one of 24 returning Concordia women’s athletes to have appeared at the 2023 indoor and/or outdoor national meets. The program boasts impressive depth across event groupings. Take for example the Early Bird meet, which saw the Bulldog women qualify one or more athletes in the 4x4, pole vault, 400 meters, 600 meters, 1,000 meters, long jump, weight throw and high jump. Two school records have already been broken as sophomore Adrianna Rodencal reset her own standard in the 60 hurdles (8.57) and sophomore Hayley Miles eclipsed the long jump mark (19’ 4 ¼”) previously held by program all-time great Carol Bailey. The current NAIA long jump national leader, Miles is another young athlete with a bright future ahead.

The Lincoln Lutheran alum Rodencal enjoyed a freshman season to remember as she generated the most points of any individual at both the conference indoor and outdoor meets and was named the GPAC Indoor and Outdoor Female Athlete of the Year. She was the first Bulldog to claim such honors since Battershell in 2020. The list of standouts carries on and includes All-American throwers such as Abigail Gerber, Alli Owings and Erin Painter. In addition, the pole vault crew guided by Coach Berry is routinely rated among the nation’s best. Puelz has qualified for 2024 indoor nationals along with Amira Cummings and Sydney Reichert. In terms of sheer career All-America awards, Haecker leads the way with eight to her credit. Additionally, Lauren Dawson has brought the race walk back into the conversation by qualifying for the 2023 outdoor national meet and the distance crew is well-positioned behind Freiberg, Julie McIntyre and others.

While Puelz has captured five NAIA pole vault titles (and was the 2023 outdoor runner up), Freiberg placed as the 2023 national runner up in the 1,000 meters and Koepke was a third-place national finisher in the 600 meters in 2022. There’s just so much depth. Says Beisel, “It’s honestly really interesting to me because a lot of it does come down to recruiting effort from our staff and who God chooses to bless us with. We’ve had year after year of very strong recruits coming in. It’s not only that – one of the things our staff really focuses on and takes pride in is bringing in kids from a variety of places, many small school midwestern kids, who then develop really, really well. That sets the stage for us being successful from a team perspective across event areas.”

Shifting gears, the Concordia men’s program has been chasing a conference championship since accomplishing that feat most recently in 2015. While the Bulldogs have fallen short of team GPAC titles in that stretch, they have routinely put themselves among the top three of the conference and placed in the top 10 nationally as recently as the 2019 NAIA indoor meet. Three automatic national marks were put on the board at the Early Bird thanks to Joel Rathe in the long jump, Chris Wren in the weight throw and Zach Zohner in the pole vault. A fifth-year Bulldog, a married man and a father, Wren headlines the returners on the men’s side. He’s a three-time All-American with two of those awards coming in the hammer throw and one coming in the weight throw. Wren (Fair Oaks, Calif.) currently ranks No. 2 nationally in the weight throw thanks to his toss of 64’ 5” at the Early Bird.

In the pole vault, Zohner (Battle Creek, Neb.) is a legitimate national title contender after he turned in national place finishes of second (indoor) and third (outdoor) in 2023. It’s not inconceivable that the pole vault crew could earn a sweep of men’s and women’s national titles in 2024. Zohner is backed in that group on the men’s side by potential qualifier Mayson Ostermeyer, among others.

While Wren missed the 2023 outdoor national meet due to the impending birth of his child, two teammates broke through with All-America awards: Austen Rozelle (discus) and Darien Semedo (shot put). In the weight throw, Rozelle and Brady Klute have posted ‘B’ standards and Nathan Baldwin did the same in the shot put to begin this season. The makings are there to send plenty of athletes to nationals.

“We’re always trying to bring in a high level of student-athlete for both women and men,” Beisel said. “We’ve had a lot of success with that. Our hope on both sides is to set the stage for a conference championship and a high placement at nationals. Those four (All-America) guys are returning stars. Austen Rozelle and Darien Semedo came in unranked and ended up making All-American last year. Then you have Chris Wren as a proven multi-time All-American as a fifth-year senior. With Zach Zohner, he was a national runner up in the pole vault. He just hit his biggest mark ever at the Early Bird.”

Now’s the time for another wave of men’s athletes to burst onto the scene. Rathe has already been to the national meet on four occasions. He’s now preparing to get onto the podium in the long jump while continuing to increase his speed as a sprinter who can score big points at the conference level.

Rathe’s hope is to also take more of his teammates with him to the national championships. Says Rathe, “It’s truly an incredible atmosphere to compete at a national meet. It’s something I never really got to do in high school. I competed at state a few times. The state track meet is one thing, but when you’re going against the best athletes in the NAIA at nationals it’s competitive and it’s a challenging atmosphere. Man is it fun when you have a crowd there to watch and a chance to show people that you’re all about your community and your school. That’s really what it’s all about when you compete at nationals.”

Elsewhere, top distance runner Calvin Rohde appears primed for a return to nationals in his final year of track. He’s also a key figure on the distance medley relay that included Trey Robertson, Colby Sugden and Trevor Kuncl at the Early Bird. There are high hopes for Sugden, now in his third year as a Bulldog. The same could be said for the likes of Gage Fries, Myles Sadd and Aaron Spivey. Development between now and February will help determine where the team lands at the 2024 GPAC Indoor Championships hosted by Mount Marty.

“It looks to me like our women have a good shot at winning another indoor title in the conference,” Beisel said. “It’s never guaranteed. Some of the teams have obviously added some heavy hitters. From the early results, it looks like Midland and Mount Marty have brought in a number of speed and power girls who are going to help them out. Dordt is always someone to be considered and Doane is never to be counted out. You never know what’s going to happen. On the guys’ side, I think a top-three finish is definitely doable. The big question is: can we be in the top two? Being able to win is always what we’re geared for. Doane has had a pretty good stretch where they’ve won most of the men’s titles the past few years, but we have some guys who are really hungry for success.”

In providing some additional thoughts, Beisel remarked, “I am constantly going to God and saying, ‘Lord, continue to bless our team with the people who are supposed to be here. Help us to build great relationships with them.’ We seek to glorify God through all of our efforts and to develop servant leaders who care about other people and are ready to go out in the world and do big things. It’s not just about performing at a high level.”

Complete 2023-24 Concordia Track & Field indoor and outdoor schedules can be found HERE.

2023-24 Automatic National Qualifiers (from Early Bird Meet)

·        Women’s 4x400m Relay (3:57.82) – Esch, Kirchner, Tuls, Koepke

·        Amira Cummings – Pole Vault (11’ 8 ½”)

·        Jenna Esch – 400 Meters (57.64); 600 Meters (1:36.35)

·        Abigail Gerber – Weight Throw (53’ 10 ½”); Shot Put (45’ 9”)

·        Rylee Haecker – 1,000 Meters (3:01.00)

·        Jordan Koepke – 600 Meters (1:36.73)

·        Hayley Miles – Long Jump (19’ 4 ¼”)

·        Kamryn Pokorney – Weight Throw (53’ 7 ¾”)

·        Josie Puelz – Pole Vault (11’ 8 ½”)

·        Joel Rathe – Long Jump (23’ 6 ¾”)

·        Sydney Reichert – Pole Vault (11’ 8 ½”)

·        Adrianna Rodencal – 60 Hurdles (8.57)

·        Chris Wren – Weight throw (64’ 5”)

·        Zoey Walker – High Jump (5’ 6”)

·        Abi Wohlgemuth – Weight Throw (58’ 10 ¼”)

·        Zach Zohner – Pole Vault (16’ 7 ¼”)