The 2015 Ashland Alumni Open is the Ashland University outdoor track and field program's athletes' one shot this season to make their mark in front of the home fans – and those who came before them.
"We have a saying in our program that tradition never graduates," said Ashland head coach Jud Logan. "When we knew we were getting a new facility, the first thing we want to do was honor the alumni.
"There's a lot of alumni that we've honored in the past, and it's our little homecoming weekend, with the amount of kids that will come in and watch. Our kids know that. They like performing in front of them and showing them how far they've come."
The 2015 Eagles definitely have much to brag about to the alumni come Friday (April 24) and Saturday (April 25). Following an indoor season in which the AU women tied for third and the AU men were fourth nationally, the Eagle men are fourth and women are eighth in the revised Week 6 U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) computer rankings.
Coming into the Open, the Eagles have earned seven automatic and 26 provisional marks for the 2015 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Nationals (May 21-23 in Allendale, Mich.).
Senior Drew Windle boasts the top Division II outdoors time in the men's 800-meter run (1:47.80), junior Elijha Owens has the second-fastest men's 400-meter intermediate hurdles time in the country (51.83) and junior Jamie Sindelar has the second-farthest outdoors women's shot put in D-II this spring at 16.12 meters/52-feet-10¾.
Logan said perhaps the team's biggest recent breakthrough was in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, where senior Isaac Potes on the men's side (9:12.97) and junior Kylee Bernthisel on the women's side (11:05.79) earned provisional times.
"At that level, if it ended today, they probably wouldn't get in, but they are cutting time like crazy," said Logan. "We feel good where we're at. Drew Windle is Drew Windle, but we were probably more happy that (junior) Nick Hall had has breakout race (1,500-meter run, 3:48.15, provisional) at Princeton.
"I like where we're at, because we kind of lost the opening weekend due to weather. We're behind a week where we want to be. Those performances over at Princeton this past weekend and what some of our throwers did at Walsh show we're moving at the right direction. We just need opportunities."
Two of the athletes Logan noted as being close to taking advantage of those opportunities include senior Waquiem Comar, who has provisionally qualified for nationals in the men's 400-meter intermediate hurdles (53.38), and freshman Irene Skinner, who has been close in the women's 400-meter dash.
Of Comar, Logan said, "He's just a kid that's been grinding and working hard and not complaining, and his time is dropping."
Of Skinner, he said, "Irene's someone that, with the late start in the season, she's just now hitting race stride. She's going to really pop a 400 that's going to put her in scoring contention for the NCAA.
"It's building, and we've got some kids that are right on the cusp. We think we've got a 4x1 team that can get there, but we haven't timed up the handoffs yet. Coach (Alan) Dunson's very hopeful on the men's side that they're going to hit a time that's going to get them going."
Local track and field fans not only will get to see Ashland's current athletes, along with those from schools like Central Michigan, Kent State, Akron, Slippery Rock, Findlay, Walsh, Malone, Notre Dame College and Youngstown State, but world-class competitors like Ashland Strength & Conditioning Coach A.G. Kruger and Eagle alum Kibwe Johnson also will take part.
Kruger, a three-time United States Olympian, has won 14 USA Track & Field titles – nine indoors and five outdoors. Johnson also is one of the country's top hammer throwers.
Among those who also will be in the elite throws category are Ryan Loughney, a former Eagle who is training in Florida and was the 2011-12 Division II indoor men's field athlete of the year; former Division I standouts Matthias Tayala (Kent State) and Alexander Ziegler (Virginia Tech) and Eagle senior Zac Ball, who provisionally has qualified for nationals in the hammer throw (65.88 meters/216-feet-2).
"We appreciate the elite athletes that look at this as kind of a launching ground for their World Championship or Olympic dreams down the road," Logan said.
"It will be nice for some of our kids to have that chance to compete at home. We're excited. We see it as a stepping stone."
The complete Ashland Alumni Open schedule can be found at http://static.psbin.com/o/e/ci3ol3r6491alg/Final_2015_sked.pdf.