CRETE, Neb. – The drought is over. The seventh-ranked Concordia men’s track and field team exercised its demons on Saturday by capturing its first ever GPAC title. Some lost points here and there made for agonizing tension, but the Bulldogs could finally exhale after clinching first place just before the final event of the night.
Inside the Fuhrer Fieldhouse, home to a Doane program that had won seven-straight men’s indoor titles, it was the Bulldogs who celebrated on this night with a victory lap around the track.
“We did it,” junior Ben Sievert exclaimed as he embraced head coach Kregg Einspahr following the 3,000 meter race.
While Concordia men’s track and field has produced All-Americans and top 25 national finishes by the truckloads, the GPAC title has been elusive. The Bulldogs came up excruciatingly short in 2011 when a dropped baton in the 4x400 meter relay kept them from having a chance to win a conference championship.
Even the guarded 22nd-year head coach Kregg Einspahr can’t hide how much this one means.
“This men’s team championship is very special to me,” Einspahr said. “We got awful close three years ago where we were ahead (going into the 4x400 meter relay).
“It’s nerve racking when you have three events left and you’re only up by seven points. Doane didn’t really project to score out that well in those three events, but I knew they had some people in the 200 that could get up and score. You certainly don’t want to leave it up to the 4x4. It was good that our 3,000 guys came up with some big points at the end.”
In his final GPAC indoor meet, accomplished senior John Cartier rose to the occasion. He won the 400 meter dash with a time of 49.14 that broke assistant coach Mark Samuel’s Fuhrer Fieldhouse 12-year old record in the event. The Bulldogs also finished in places three through six and eighth in the 400 meters to score crucial team points.
“Last year I promised prematurely that we were going to get the GPAC title, but I’m glad we could make up for it this year, especially at Doane’s home track,” Cartier said. “They ran a great meet here, but I’m just glad we did get the W. It’s been four years in the making. We’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs. I’m just so happy and thankful.”
Concordia also took first place in the men’s 4x400 meter relay with Cartier racing across the finish line as the anchor leg. Additional individual titles came from Noah Smith in the 60 meter dash (6.94) and from Jaap Van Gaalen in the 600 meter run (1:23.10).
“I ran the 400 before the 60 finals so I was a little worried but I knew that coach’s training and the conditioning we do would pay off,” Smith said. “The race was good from the blocks. I had a great start and I relaxed and maintained to the finish as hard as I could for the win.”
Sievert was part of the 3,000 meter race that clinched the meet for the Bulldogs. The Frankenmuth, Mich., native claimed third and teammates Hayden Hohnholt and Josh Allwardt took sixth and seventh, respectively, to make Concordia's lead over Doane insurmountable.
The Bulldogs finished with 196 team points to the Tigers’ 172.
“Definitely tonight,” Cartier responded when asked how long his team will celebrate the title. “Next week, Monday, we’ll start refocusing for nationals.”
Other top performers for the Bulldogs included Jonathon Becker in the 60 meter hurdles (second) and 400 meter dash (third), Carson Farr in the pole vault (second), Lucas Wiechman in the heptathlon (third) and Cody Boellstorff in the weight throw (fourth). The Energizer Bunny Sievert placed second in both the mile and 5,000 meter runs in addition to his third-place 3,000-meter finish.
“This was just a slugfest between two very good teams today,” Einspahr said. “When you have two teams that both score over 170 points – that’s a boatload of points. It was something else with the way it was going back and forth with the scoring. It was pretty tense.”
While the men grabbed the headlines by winning the GPAC title, the Bulldog women also put together a solid meet. They compiled 124.33 points, second only to Doane’s 212.16.
“Second place was a very good finish,” Einspahr said. “The women’s side of things was quite a bit more balanced overall. We were hoping we could pull a second out, beat Hastings out and we did. We had some very good performances.
“Jamie Crouse had a tremendous day and Kim Wood coming out as a sophomore and winning both the mile and 800 was impressive. Sarah Kortze had a great way to go out in her career. We had a good day on the women’s side.”
Kortze ran to a school record time of 17:38.82 in the 5,000 meters, eclipsing the former record of 17:41.76 by Rachael Geidel in 2001. Kortze placed second in the 5,000 meter run before finishing the night with a first-place time of 10:22.49 in the 3,000 meter run.
Meanwhile, Crouse won the weight throw for the third-straight year by hitting a mark of 59’ 2 ¼”. The next closest competitor finished more than a foot behind.
“It feels good,” Crouse said. “I’ve kind of been battling some back pain. I didn’t get the throw I wanted but I got just what I needed in the very first throw so I’m glad I hit it. I wish I could have built on it, but it feels good to end (with a title).”
Wood’s winning times registered at 2:59.70 in the 1,000 meters and 5:09.99 in the mile. She has qualified for the national championships in both events in addition to the 600 and 800 meter races.
Crouse was backed in the throws by Stephanie Coley, who placed third in both the weight throw and shot put. In addition, freshman Kali Robb scored in both events as well.
“Stephanie Coley did awesome today in the weight. She had a huge PR (57’),” Crouse said. “She did great in the shot put as well.”
The women’s pole vault produced 13.33 team points due to four top-eight place finishers, led by Cassie Starks’ second-place clearance of 11’ 5”.
On Friday night, the Bulldogs got another school record performance when senior Lydia Pomerenke amassed 3,362 points in the pentathlon for a third-place finish. Montana Hayes and Sara Simmons tied for sixth in the pentathlon.
The 2014 NAIA Indoor Track and Field National Championships will be held March 6-8 at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio. For additional information on the national championships, click HERE.