2014 NCAA Division II Men's and Women's Indoor Track and Field Championships
Mar. 14-15, 2014 (Friday-Saturday)
JDL Fast Track, Winston-Salem, N.C. – Winston-Salem State, Host Institution
The Ashland University men's and women's track and field teams have been ranked among the nation's top five teams all season. Both should spend a good deal of time at the top of the championships podium.
The AU men are ranked third in the country. A year ago, the AU men finished as the national runner-up indoors and outdoors. Indoors the Eagles won three national titles – Richard Quick in the weight throw, Drew Windle in the 800 and the 4X4 relay.
The Ashland women are ranked fifth in the nation. At last year's national championship meet in Birmingham, Ala., they were fifth. Katie Nageotte won a national championship in the pole vault.
AU head coach Jud Logan will take 27 student-athletes to this meet. That's the largest group the program has ever taken to the NCAA Championships. The Eagles have a school-record 12 throwers competing.
The Championships will begin at 9 a.m., both days.
The National Outlook
The Adams State men's team is ranked first in the country with 254.54 power points. Saint Augustine's (217.33) is second, Ashland (191.08) is third, Grand Valley State (134.78) is fourth and Minnesota State (116.50) is fifth. Saint Augustine's is the defending national champion and Adams State was third last year.
For the women, Lincoln sits on top of the poll with 189.61 points. Grand Valley State (184.22) is second, Adams State (172.54) is third, Johnson C. Smith (139.23) is fourth and the Eagles (126.71) are fifth. Academy of Art won the national championship a year ago with Lincoln second and Grand Canyon State third.
"With the rankings, if every single program in the country has the perfect meet and competes to their rank, this is how they finish," said Logan. "There will not be a perfect meet. We think we have a podium team for men and women. Right now, the rankings say our women aren't a podium team
"Nothing's promised," pointed out Logan. "That's why you have the meet. It's how good you are on that day."
The AU Travel Party
The Eagles will have 15 men and 12 women participating in North Carolina.
The men's list includes Zac Ball (weight throw), Brian Baum (mile, distance relay), Waquiem Comar (60 hurdles, 4X4), Jared Conklin (weight throw), Jacob Cook (400, 4X4, distance medley), Josh Davis (distance medley), Donald Duke (shot put), Nick Hall (mile), James Clay Harris (weight throw), Elijha Owens (60 hurdles, 4X4), Zac Papay (shot put), Jacob Sussman (mile), Mack Taylor (weight throw), Drew Windle (800, 4X4, distance medley) and Jason Zahn (shot put).
The women's group consists of Jennifer Bjelac (long jump/pentathlon), Jessica Bridenthal (shot put/weight throw), Macy Caldwell (60 hurdles/pentathlon), Jennifer Foster (high jump), Jackie Genetin (distance medley), Kim Habegger (weight throw), Anna Mion (distance medley), Delainey Phelps (distance medley), Jamie Sindelar (shot put), Abby Strock (distance medley), Megan Tomei (shot put/weight throw) and Cynthia Watt (weight throw).
Windle is the Midwest Region Men's Track Athlete of the Year and Bridenthal is the Midwest Region Women's Field Athlete of the Year. Trent Mack is the Midwest Region Men's Assistant Coach of the Year.
AU also has a long list of All-Midwest Region performers. To be named all-region, an athlete must finish the regular season in the region's top five in an event. The top three relays are recognized.
The men receiving all-region plaudits are Ball, Baum, Comar, Cook, Duke, Hall, Harris, Owens, Sussman, Taylor, Eric Thompkins, Windle and Zahn.
For the women, the all-region roster is made up of Bjelac, Bridenthal, Caldwell, Foster, Habegger, Sindelar, Tomei and Watt.
Windle was the national champion in the 800 indoors and outdoors last season. It's no surprise that he's the favorite to retain that title. What has caught the AU coaching staff off guard is how far Windle and Ball in the weight throw, have lifted their performances. The bar was already high for both.
"Probably our two highest performing athletes from last year were Drew Windle and Zac Ball," Logan said. "The level they exceeded from last year puts them in the category you wouldn't expect them to be, most improved. They exceeded our expectations."
Logan refers to Windle as "brash," Of course Windle has every reason to be that way. He has a unique resume.
"That belief in himself is so strong," marveled Logan. "You want to see that in every kid in your program. He's going to be special this year and he's going to be special next year. He's a warrior for Coach Mack's program. It's like the rest of the team is trying to elevate itself to his level."
Windle is part of the 4X4 that has the top time in the nation – 3:17.78. The other members of that foursome are Owens, Comar and Cook. All of those athletes are running in multiple events and their endurance and mental focus will be tested. But as Logan points out, the Eagles aren't the only team in that situation.
"Everybody has to do that," said the AU head coach. "No one feels sorry for anyone."
Freshman Delainey Phelps is two-for-two this year. She qualified for cross country nationals and placed 25th, earning All-America laurels. Now she's part of AU's distance medley that is heading to nationals.
Phelps is joined on the relay by junior Anna Mion, sophomore Abby Strock and freshman Jackie Gentin. The accent on this relay is youth and it's a good example of how Mack has worked to build the depth of the women's program. That was a point of emphasis for the Eagles during the off-season.
"This is the first time Trent's had a women's distance relay going," noted Logan.
Improving By Leaps and Bounds
Junior Jennifer Bjelac will be competing in the long jump and pentathlon. She's been a solid performer over the last two seasons but like so many in the program, has elevated her performance in the last year.
"Probably the most improved on the team is Jenn Bjelac," said Logan. "What she's done in the pentathlon and the long jump has been good to see. She's worked really hard. It's nice to see a kid put extra work and effort into it and be rewarded."
Bjelac is listed seventh on the performance list in the pentathlon with 3713 points.
Strength in Numbers
The Eagles have a school record 12 throwers competing in North Carolina. Logan calls this the deepest group of throwers he's ever coached at AU. This group may not have a headliner like the years Ryan Loughney or Garrett Grey competed, but it could make a major haul in points because of its depth.
"We've built up depth," explained Logan. "We're proud of where the program is going. It's crazy to think we have 12 throwers going. It's a belief in a system that's driven from the bottom up to the top."
Ball is a junior and has shown a propensity for doing his best in the biggest meets of the year. He's listed second in the country at 70-8 and at the GLIAC meet, took first place in front of Findlay's Justin Welch. Welch is first on the performance list of the weight throw at 72-2.25. Ball threw 70-8 at the conference meet and Welch's best throw was 70-7.25.
James Clay Harris and Mack Taylor have made a quantum leap in their performance. Harris is listed fifth in the country (64-10.5) and Taylor is seventh (63-10.5). Few expected to see them in those positions.
"They took it upon themselves to change that dynamic," said Logan.
In the men's shot put, Duke, a senior, is second at 62-7.75. Zahn is sixth (57-11.25) and Papay is 16th (56-2).
"This is D.J.'s year to shine," offered Logan. "Jason Zahn is capable of having a good day and Zac Papay is capable of moving up. We think he could go top nine."
The favorite in the shot put is Christopher Reed of Minnesota State. Logan refers to him as "a beast," and acknowledges that he is a strong candidate for the NCAA Division II field athlete of the year. Reed has the nation's best throw in the shot put – 65-10.
Bridenthal leads the women's brigade. She's listed first in the weight throw (67-8.25) and third in the shot put (50-7.25). Kim Habegger is second in the weight throw (65-11.5), followed by Cynthia Watt (fifth, 62-11.25) and Megan Tomei (59-1.25). Sindelar is 10th in the shot put (48-6.75) and Tomei is 13th (48-4).
"Jess has pulled a double auto all year," Logan said. "She can do well in both."