By Taylor Mueller
Just weeks removed from an impressive finish to the indoor track and field season, the Concordia Bulldogs are gearing up for one last run as the outdoor season sets to begin on Saturday at the Wayne State Wildcat Classic in Wayne, Neb.
Both the men’s and women’s squads have plenty of momentum to carry, coming off fifth and 11th place national finishes, respectively. Expectations remain high for a Concordia program that has nothing but high standards.
Coach Kregg Einspahr returns for his 23rd year as the head man for the Bulldogs. With high-achieving athletes in numerous events, Einspahr did not hesitate to set high goals for the team.
“We would like to compete for the top two spots in the GPAC championships and challenge for the conference championships,” Einspahr said. “At the same time we are working to achieve our goals. I would like to see our student-athletes enjoy their track and field experience and have some fun.”
Earning high conference finishes are very realistic goals for the Bulldogs, who came off second place finishes in the indoor season. Although events such as the 600 meter and 1000 meter runs will not be part of outdoor competition, the addition of the 100 meter dash, 4x100 meter relay, 400 meter hurdles, 10,000 meter run and the steeplechase could provide some extra point scoring. An already strong throwing squad will have even more opportunities to shine with the addition of the javelin, hammer and discus throws.
“I think we should be as good or better at the 2015 Outdoor NAIA National Track & Field Championships at the end of May in Gulf Shores, Alabama,” Einspahr said. “It would be nice to see both teams finish in the top eight nationally and perhaps get into the top four for one of the teams.”
The women’s squad boasts plenty of talent in numerous events. 2014 national champion Liz King will look to defend her javelin crown aside the likes of sophomore Kali Robb and junior Stephanie Coley who are coming off impressive indoor finishes.
Junior Kim Wood will provide plenty of entertainment in a slew of events ranging from lengthy sprints to middle distance races while freshman Emily Sievert will look to cap off a strong freshman year.
Senior Cassandra Starks will look to put an exclamation point on what has already been a thrilling senior season for the senior from Haigler, Neb. In her first indoor season without sustaining an injury, Starks certainly made the most of it. Now with a sixth place finish and an indoor school record under her belt, Starks is hungry for one last shot at success.
The high-goal mindset is common among the Bulldogs, as Starks expressed similar aspirations as her head coach, adding that the women should also be able to carry over a significant amount of momentum from their successful indoor season.
“I would like to win conference and place high in nationals. I think we can get top five in nationals,” Starks said. “I think we can definitely carry that over. We usually get a few more girls for outdoor, a few more than indoor. People are getting in better shape and getting more used to competition and more experience. Keeping up a good work ethic and maintaining a strong team bond are the biggest things that are going to help us out.”
As for herself, Starks is keeping her eyes on one goal that she has yet to attain.
“I definitely want to go out strong and have a good outdoor season,” Starks said. “I want to get the school record again for outdoor since I did that for indoor.”
Senior Taiheem Pleasant brimmed with nothing but confidence and excitement as he opened up about his vision for the men’s squad.
The 5-foot-11 senior from Lincoln, Neb., wants to “go out on top” and has a few milestones that he would like to hit along the way.
“As always, winning a GPAC championship would be nice,” Pleasant said. “If not, we’d like to finish in the top two. We at least want to beat Morningside and Briar Cliff.”
Pleasant noted that several groups and individuals will need to step up if the Bulldogs hope to accomplish another high conference finish, though he believes that the outdoor season can bring even more success than the indoor season.
“We’re going to need help from our sprinters and hurdlers,” Pleasant said. “The throwers keep doing an amazing job. The vaulters are doing good, and we’ve got (multi-event athletes). We just need the sprinters to step up, which should be good for outdoor, it’s a little bit of a longer track. The 100 (meter dash) and the 200 (meter dash) should go well for us, as should the 400 (meter) hurdles.”
“We’re going to do a lot better, (than indoor season),” Pleasant said. “We also have a 4x100 meter squad now which should get us some more points. The 100 (meter dash) should get us some points compared to the 60 (meter dash). Then we’ll have three guys in the 200 (meter dash). I’m excited about outdoor because we have more hurdlers in the 400 hurdles where other teams don’t.”
The men have plenty of talent at their disposal in numerous events across the board to back up Pleasant’s goals.
Pleasant leads a strong group of sprinters that includes senior Matt Chapa, junior Jaap Van Gaalen and sophomore CJ Muller.
The decathlon will provide plenty of in-team competition as All-Americans Lucas Wiechman, Brandon Ramos and Brandon Cook gear up for another round of domination.
Sophomore and shot put national champion Zach Lurz returns to the ring to the ring in hopes of adding an outdoor title to his resume. Junior and national indoor weight throw champion Josh Slechta will join him as the duo leads a phenomenal and deep group of throwers.
When the action gets under way on Saturday in Wayne, Neb., Pleasant guaranteed that there will be plenty to look forward to.
“Concordia’s on the come-up,” Pleasant said.