May 22-24, 2014
At Grand Valley State, Allendale, Mich.
The Ashland University track and field program will be well represented at this week's NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships. AU will take 16 men and eight women to Allendale, Mich., for the championships. The Ashland men finished as the national runner-up a year ago and are ranked third in the country. The AU women were ninth last year and are ranked fifth in the nation.
This year's championships are hosted by Grand Valley State and the West Michigan Sports Commission. Because AU and GVSU are both in the GLIAC, the Eagles know this venue very well. The field includes 754 student-athletes – 377 men and 377 women.
The National Picture
On the men's side, St. Augustine is ranked first, Adams State is second, Ashland is third, Texas A&M-Kingsville is fourth and Chico State is fifth.
A year ago at Colorado State-Pueblo, St. Augustine's won the national crown with 105 points and AU was second with 57 points. Since 1982, St. Augustine's or Abilene Christian has won the men's national championship every year except 2012 when Adams State broke through to claim the championship. During this stretch, Abilene Christian has won 19 championships and St. Augustine's has 12.
"We believe our men's team is a podium team," remarked AU head coach Jud Logan. "The point we'll try to get across is that every point has to be earned. The goes for St. Augustine's, Adams State, Ashland and Chico State. Each team has to earn its points. The thing about the NCAA meet is you can't earn points without bodies. We have one of the biggest teams there."
Lincoln has the top-ranked women's team. Grand Valley State is second, Adams State is third, Johnson C. Smith is fourth and then comes AU.
Unlike the men's title chase of recent years, the women's battle has been more wide open. Academy of Art won last year with 60 points and Johnson C. Smith and Lincoln tied for second place with 54 points each. Grand Valley State won national championships in 2011 and 2012. Angelo State finished first in 2010 and Lincoln was the national champ in 2009.
"We have half the numbers with our women, eight versus 16," pointed out Logan. "They can be a podium team with a great meet."
AU's Championship Contingent
The Ashland men making the trip to GVSU are Zac Ball (hammer), Brian Baum (1500), Bryn Campbell (hammer), Waquiem Comar (400 hurdles), Jared Conklin (hammer), Jacob Cook (400/4X1/4X4), Jordan Crayon (hammer), Donald Duke (shot put), Brandon Freeman (4X1/4X4), Cory Lamar (4X1/4X4), Elijha Owens (110 hurdles/400 hurdles/4X1/4X4), Chris Powell (discus), Kyle Steinhauser (discus), Mack Taylor (hammer), Drew Windle (800) and Jason Zahn (shot put/discus).
The women making the trip are Jennifer Bjelac (long jump), Jessica Bridenthal (shot put/hammer), Macy Caldwell (110 hurdles/high jump/heptathlon), Jennifer Foster (high jump), Kim Habegger (hammer), Jamie Sindelar (shot put/discus), Megan Tomei (shot put) and Cynthia Watt (hammer).
The Gold Standard
At last year's outdoor championships the Eagles won three national championships – Windle in the 800, Garrett Grey in the hammer throw and Katie Nageotte in the pole vault. At this year's indoor championships, Windle led the field in the 800 and was part of the distance relay that finished first. That relay also included Baum and Cook. Bridenthal captured the national championship in the weight throw.
Top of the Charts
Windle enters this championship meet with the best time in the 800 meters (1:46.91). Sindelar is the leader in the shot put (16.21 meters).
Windle has won four national championships in his career. He has two national titles indoors in the 800 and won the 800 outdoors (1:48.52) last spring. He also was part of the distance relay that won a national championship at this year's indoor championships.
The second best time in the 800 belongs to Robin Butler of Western State (1:49.12). Dillon Webster of Findlay (1:49.17) is seeded fourth. He finished second behind Windle at indoor nationals and at this year's GLIAC outdoor championships, won the conference championship in 1:49.17. Windle was second in 1:50.87.
Windle was named the 2014 indoor men's track athlete of the year and he's the 2014 Midwest Region outdoor men's track athlete of the year. He's a contender to win the national award outdoors. When talking about Windle, the bar is set unusually high. He's not in as many events as some other contenders for the national award and it might take him setting a national record to receive that piece of hardware. There was some talk of Windle competing in the 800 and the 1500 and that could take place in a year.
"He's a year away from the 1500/800 double," conceded Logan. "We didn't think that was best for our team. That will be motivation for him."
Sindelar was third (48-8.75) in the shot put a year ago at outdoor nationals. She was fifth indoors this year in the event. Sara Wells of Western State is the second seed (15.95 meters) in the shot. Sindelar is also seeded sixth (48.62 meters) in the discus.
"She is the unsung girl on the team," said Logan of Sindelar. "She's level headed. She was a state champ in the discus and wasn't very strong in the shot. Now, that's flipped. I don't think she feels the pressure, which is cool. She's been special."
Logan points out that Sindelar is from southwestern Ohio, which has been very good to the Eagles. One of the top throwers in program history - Kurt Roberts – came from that area. Roberts' father coached Sindelar in high school.
On a Constant High
Jennifer Foster has been a high scorer in the high jump throughout her career. She comes into this meet seeded third in the event at 1.78 meters. To get a national championship, she'll probably have to unseat the Western State duo of Barbara Szabo (1.89 meters) and Susan Jackson (1.86 meters).
Foster appears to have the right combination of experience and savvy to do that. Outdoors, she was fourth in 2012 and eighth in 2013. Indoors, she was second in 2013 and fourth at this year's indoor meet.
"She's a consistent performer," noted Logan. "I know she wanted to make it in the pole vault too, but this has given her time to stay focused in the high jump."
The men's team has six seniors heading to Michigan for this meet. That group lists Duke, Steinhauser, Powell, Lamar, Comar and Cook.
"Most of them have been to multiple NCAA championships," reminded Logan. "They're going to set the tone for us. From the first day on, they're going to determine what kind of swagger we have."
Duke is seeded second (18.79 meters) in the shot put. Wesley Long of Adams State owns the best throw in the nation (19.80 meters).
Powell is listed sixth (53.94 meters) in the discus and Steinhauser is seventh (53.90 meters).
Full Field In the Hammer
There are 20 student-athletes entered in the men's hammer throw and a quarter of the field comes from Ashland. Ball is ranked fourth (63.15 meters), Campbell is fifth (62.41 meters), Conklin is sixth (62.17 meters), Taylor is 15th (60.21 meters) and Crayon is 19th (57.94 meters).
In the women's hammer, Watt is seeded third (61.16 meters), Habegger is fourth (60.69 meters) and Bridenthal is fifth (58.59 meters). The best throw in the country is owned by Heavin Warner of Central Missouri (64.05 meters).
"I think this is the largest group of throwers we've taken," said Logan. "We have a quarter of the field in the hammer and we have three in the ladies. We've not done that before."
The hammer throw takes place early on Thursday afternoon, the opening day of the championships. That could mean a good start for the Eagles. By the way, of the top six competitors in the men's hammer, five are from the GLIAC.
Ashland will have 13 throwers at this meet.
Silent But Deadly
Owens is looking to put an exclamation point on an exceptional season. He's performed at a high level indoors and outdoors in 2013-14. He goes to GVSU seeded third in the 110 hurdles and seventh in the 400 hurdles. He's part of the 4X4 that's seeded sixth and the 4X1 that's seeded eighth.
"If there's anyone on our team who's the silent storm, it's Elijha," Owens said. "That's evident when you see him on meet day. He's driven. I'm not sure where that comes from. He's become a leader through his work ethic. He's not a rah-rah guy. Elijha makes Cory Lamar, Jacob Cook and Drew Windle want to run their 400 leg as hard as they can. They know he's going to go out with power and speed."
Fans of Caldwell will have plenty of opportunities to watch her perform. She's seeded fourth in the heptathlon (5069 points), seventh in the 100 hurdles (13.68) and 12th in the high jump (1.72 meters).
"She's the MVP of our women's team," acknowledged Logan.