IN 2015-16: Ashland's men were 10th nationally indoors and tied for ninth nationally outdoors, while the AU women were tied for 30th nationally indoors and tied for 37th nationally outdoors…Combined, they boasted one national champion and 12 All-American efforts.
2016-17 OUTLOOK: Both the Eagle men and women have veteran leadership and a balanced team to once again compete at the national level.
In two words – "They're back."
Following what was supposed to be a reloading 2015-16 season, Ashland's University's men's and women's track and field teams are ready to make a return run at national prominence.
The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) tends to agree, having placed both the AU men and women sixth in the NCAA Division II preseason national rankings.
"The preseason rankings are just what they are, they're a little snapshot of what we can be," said Ashland head coach Jud Logan, now in his 12th season as head coach and 23rd season overall. "We want to be a top-five team in both genders. We're excited to be there.
"We're still a young team, but we've got a lot of strength at the top. We've got some seniors that we're relying on quite a bit."
Ashland's men boast five returning All-Americans from a year ago – senior throwers Jordan Crayon, Bryn Campbell and Jason Zahn, junior thrower Elijah Talk and sophomore sprinter/hurdler Myles Pringle. They also return a 2015 indoor All-American, senior distance runner Nick Hall, who is coming off his second All-American cross country effort.
Crayon, Campbell, Zahn and Talk are the veterans in what, to no one's surprise, should be a deep men's throws group with also features junior Clayton Jury, junior transfer Daniel Roberts, sophomore Jim Toth and redshirt freshmen Alex Hill and Nick Zak.
"Two years ago in Birmingham, we took seven weight throwers to the NCAA championship, and only placed one in the scoring," Logan said. "I'd rather take four and have three score. We're in that position again where we could get six or seven kids to the NCAA. We've got to do a better job of competing on the meet day. We think we've got a better mindset in approaching that."
Crayon took care of business at 2016 indoor nationals, winning his first national title in the weight throw at 21.81 meters/71-feet-6.75.
Logan knows, however, to get the Eagle men back to the national team podium (from 2012-13 to 2014-15, the men were second, third or fourth in the country in all six national meets), it will take a well-rounded group to qualifiers and scorers from all areas of the team.
"We're going to need that DMR, we're going to need Nick Hall in an open event, we're going to need Myles Pringle to be Myles Pringle," Logan said, "and then we've got to fill in with what (former AU head coach) Bill Gallagher used to call 'nickels and pennies.' We've got a lot of dollar bills on this team, but if you are going to score (at nationals), you've got find the nickels and you've got to find the pennies, and at the end of the day, if you've got the most in your change jar, you win.
"We need those relays, we need those sprints, we need those hurdles, we need those jumps, we need to do all of those things."
In the pole vault, Ashland also has strength in juniors Andrew Nageotte and Trent Balduff, and sophomore Jacob Sprague. Logan also listed hurdlers Devin Snowden (sophomore) and Arthur Greenlee IV (freshman) as potential difference-makers.
On the women's side, while the Eagles have no returning 2016 All-Americans in the fold, the potential exists for several athletes to accomplish the feat in 2017. That includes senior thrower Megan Tomei, who earned a 2015 All-American honor by placing third at 2015 indoor nationals in the shot put.
"We're relying heavily on Megan Tomei as the fifth-year senior in that group," Logan said, "but we believe that Kala, Natalie and Mackenzie, all three of them were one spot away last year, indoors and outdoors, from being in the national meet, so they're hungry to get going there."
Ashland's women have strength and depth in the multis group of juniors Hannah Bartlome and Marie Hammer and sophomore Tiffany Pryce, and in the jumps with senior Rebecca Koval and freshmen Ellie Jindra and Paul Wollenslegel.
The Eagles' distance group is paced by sophomore Emily Schumaker, who was the women's cross country team's top runner in the fall. In the sprints, sophomore Samantha Duale could be the pacesetter after a strong freshman campaign, along with senior Tiarra Kick, and junior Haley Gregory returns from injury to bolster the hurdles group.
UP FIRST: Saturday (Dec. 3) at noon at the Tiffin Alumni Open.