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Top Dawgs putting nation on notice

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 10, 2016 in Track & Field

The current crop of top-of-the-line athletes within the Concordia University track and field programs is about as good as it gets. One could even make the argument that this group has no equal when compared to previous Bulldog editions. The school record book is under relentless assault and both Concordia squads own top-five national team rankings.

Behind the impressive indoor season is a group of ‘Top Dawgs’ capable of holding its own on any level of collegiate competition. They’ve proven it. So unprecedented is the collection of talent that it has 24th-year head coach Kregg Einspahr jogging his memory bank.

“I don’t know that we’ve had a year where we’ve had this many leading events in the NAIA,” Einspahr said. “I can’t remember a time. I know there have been times where we’ve had a number of athletes in the top three. To have that many leading events right now is pretty remarkable. Those are good marks. It’s not like it’s a down year. Those would be leading in any year. It’s pretty exciting to see that.”

A quartet of star Bulldog athletes entered this week with program-record marks that currently lead the NAIA. The throwers have continued their dominance with top-ranked measurements presently owned by the likes of Cody Boellstorff (weight throw), Stephanie Coley (shot put) and Zach Lurz (shot put). On the track, Kim Wood keeps pushing beyond the borders of ridiculousness and sits No. 1 on the national list in the mile.

Boellstorff, Lurz and Wood have each been named NAIA national athletes of the week since mid-January. Just two days after receiving national recognition, Boellstorff, a Waverly, Neb., native, unleashed a massive weight throw toss of 68’ 4 ½” to win the competition at the Frank Sevigne Husker Invite on Feb. 5. That performance stunned a field loaded with NCAA Division I long tossers. Says Boellstorff, “I definitely had to double take and make sure that I wasn’t just seeing things. I was shocked.”

Lurz, also a participant in the competition, couldn’t hide his excitement for a teammate that has helped push his own results to greater heights. Admittedly intimidated, Boellstorff outgunned 6-foot-9 runner up Alan Zapalac of the University of Texas.

“I made a couple kids mad because I started clapping and I had chalk all over my hands,” Lurz said. “I pulled a LeBron James and they were all upset. I freaked out watching him drop that. Watching it go through the ring it didn’t look tech-wise like it was going to be a huge throw. It just kept flying.”

Unsatisfied with a ‘mere’ sub five-minute mile, Wood went back to work a day after Boellstorff made waves at the Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln. Wood slashed more than six seconds off her mile, finishing in a blazing fast 4:51.61. According to her head coach, Wood is training as well as anyone Concordia female runner in Einspahr’s tenure at the helm of Concordia track and field.

Wood now brims with confidence after using the early parts of her collegiate career to adjust to running longer distances. The amazing Wood ranks in the top 10 nationally in four events, including three times that land among the top three. The native of Greeley, Neb., raised eyebrows a year ago by winning three individual GPAC indoor titles in roughly a two-hour span. She’s even better now.

“I am surprised,” Wood said of her collection of lofty national rankings. “I never expected when I came here that this would be happening. I volunteered for cross country so I’d get in better shape for track. I remember my freshman year how intimidated I was and looking up to the team thinking, ‘oh my gosh they’re so good. I wish I could be that good someday.’ Leading the nation shows that the work’s paid off. It’s just incredible.”

While Lurz’s personal best last week in the weight throw was overshadowed by his teammate’s eye-popping hurl, Boellstorff admits that Lurz “does his fair share to embarrass me in the shot put.” Already one of the most accomplished throwers in program history, Lurz has a laundry list of big-time honors, such as NAIA national performer of the meet as part of last year’s outdoor national team title run. The native of Chadron, Neb., tops the shot put leaderboard by nearly three feet and is the defending indoor shot put national champ.

Lurz is one of the headliners for a group of Concordia throwers that owns 12 marks that rank inside the top 10 of the NAIA national leaderboard. Success has bred more success among assistant coach Ed McLaughlin’s crew.

“It’s awesome,” Lurz said. “Seeing national level competition and throwing against Cody every day pushes me and I try to do my best to push him. Then he throws seven feet farther than me in a meet. We push each other. We feed off each other’s energy. When one throws well you’ll see the other throw well. When somebody opens up with a big one everybody keeps trying to outdo each other. All it does is make the team better.”

Kali Robb has done plenty to distinguish herself among Concordia female throwers, but it’s Coley who has risen to the top of the school all-time list and national leaderboard in the shot put. However, Coley’s seen enough to know that her own record is “not going to last long.” After all, she’s leading Robb by less than an eyelash in the shot.

In some ways it’s been a fairytale for the six-time All-American from Gering, Neb. She placed as high as fourth in a national championship event in 2015, but her perch atop the national leaderboard is rarified air.

“It’s actually kind of unbelievable for me,” Coley said. “The past few years it seemed like a further stretch than I thought it was. It’s very exciting that I’ve gotten to that level and I appreciate everything the coaching staff and my teammates have given me in support.”

Concordia’s fearsome foursome, along with several other standouts such as junior CJ Muller, has put the nation on notice. The Top Dawgs won’t back down from the NAIA’s best – or even NCAA Division I competitors. Led by its star power, Bulldog track and field is again a national player.