Ashland University's track and field program has a tradition of excellence.
The 2015 NCAA Division II Championships on Thursday-Saturday (May 21-23) in Allendale, Mich., has the potential to be an extension of that excellence.
Twenty-three Eagle athletes (15 men, eight women) will take part in this year's outdoor track nationals. AU's men are ranked third in Division II, and the AU women ninth – meaning the expectations of a pair of Top-10 finishes are there.
As far as the minutia of predicting how the scoring might go is concerned, count Ashland head coach Jud Logan out.
"I don't do a lot of scoring the meet like a lot of coaches do," Logan said. "That can drive you crazy. We are spending all our time trying to get our kids in the best physical and mental shape they can be in.
"We've actually been doing less, and training smarter."
There are many potential highlights for the Eagle men. Nationals will mark the final collegiate competition for senior Drew Windle, who is attempting to earn a third 800-meter run national title outdoors.
"I certainly wouldn't," Logan said when asked if he would count Windle out in his final collegiate races. "His workouts have been great, but that's why you race. I've always told the kids it's always harder to defend than it is to win. He's got to do it one more time."
Six Eagle men will compete in the hammer throw - seniors Zac Ball, Jared Conklin and Mack Taylor, sophomores Bryn Campbell and Jordan Crayon and freshman Clayton Jury. There is a redemption factor here – Ball placed third at the 2015 indoor nationals in the weight throw, but none of the other six Eagle national qualifiers scored points in the event.
"They know that indoors, they did not compete to their expectations," said Logan, "and that was the stress and the pressure of feeling we could win a national title. We're in a way-better place with our hammer group going to outdoors. They are way more relaxed and having more fun. For the love of hammer."
Logan said of Ball, "Even though the top two guys in the country are pretty good, he's a guy I wouldn't bet against, either. If there is anyone who could upset the apple cart, it would be him. He's a guy that definitely needs to be the leader of that group, go out and strike big early, and the rest of the guys will relax and follow his lead."
Junior Elijha Owens has the potential to score key points for the Ashland men in three events – the 110-meter high hurdles, 400-meter intermediate hurdles and as part of the 4x100-meter relay team, along with freshman Halen Witcher and juniors Brandon Freeman and Eric Thompkins.
"We think if he runs the race he's capable of, he's got good shot at a title in the 400 hurdles," Logan said. "In the 110 hurdles, one mistake, and you can go from first to eighth. We're glad Elijha is a technician, because they are the ones who hold it together under stress."
Sophomore Jason Zahn will compete in the shot put and the discus throw, senior Waquiem Comar is in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles, junior Nick Hall will go in the 1,500-meter run and freshman Elijah Talk will compete in the shot put.
"We feel like we have a podium team," said Logan. "We feel like that we're peaking at the right time. So we're going to go with what we have, and not heap a lot of expectations on the kids' shoulders, but really encourage them to dig down and find their best performance of the season. If we do that, we'll be a smiling group."
Five of the eight AU women's national qualifiers will compete in two events apiece - seniors Jennifer Bjelac (long jump, heptathlon), Jessica Bridenthal (shot put, hammer throw) and Shatora Lewis (shot put, discus throw), junior Jamie Sindelar (shot put, discus throw) and sophomore Megan Tomei (shot put, hammer throw).
"With what we have going, if we can get a Top-10 finish, it would be outstanding for our women," said Logan. "The indoor season took quite a toll on them. We were doing so much to get on the podium, and it cost us in the early part of the year. We are now rounding into form to be a Top-10 team."
Logan said he wants to see his senior women compete to the best of their abilities, and their places will work themselves out. He also mentioned not many of the Eagle women are projected to score highly in their respective events.
"I guess the goal for the women is to outperform their ranking," Logan said. "If they do that, we'll have had a good meet."
2015 DIVISION II NATIONAL QUALIFIERS (IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER OF EVENTS)
- Jennifer Bjelac, senior, women's heptathlon – May 21, 11 a.m. (four events) and May 22, 10:30 a.m. (three events)
- Jessica Bridenthal, senior; Kim Habegger, senior; Megan Tomei, sophomore, women's hammer throw – May 21, 12:30 p.m.
- Jennifer Bjelac, senior, women's long jump – May 21, 2:30 p.m.
- Zac Ball, senior; Bryn Campbell, sophomore; Jared Conklin, senior; Jordan Crayon, sophomore; Clayton Jury, freshman; Mack Taylor, senior, men's hammer throw – May 21, 3:30 p.m.
- Men's 4x100-meter relay (Halen Witcher, freshman; Brandon Freeman, junior; Elijha Owens, junior and Eric Thompkins, junior), May 21, 5 p.m. (prelims) and May 23, 2:10 p.m. (finals)
- Nick Hall, junior, men's 1,500-meter run, May 21, 5:25 p.m. (prelims) and May 23, 2:35 p.m. (finals)
- Irene Skinner, freshman, women's 400-meter dash – May 21, 5:40 p.m. (prelims) and May 23, 3:05 p.m. (finals)
- Waquiem Comar, senior; Elijha Owens, senior, men's 400-meter intermediate hurdles – May 21, 7:55 p.m. (prelims) and May 23, 4:20 p.m. (finals)
- Shatora Lewis, senior; Jamie Sindelar, junior, women's discus throw – May 22, 2 p.m.
- Jennifer Foster, senior, women's high jump – May 22, 3:30 p.m.
- Jason Zahn, sophomore, men's discus throw – May 22, 5 p.m.
- Drew Windle, senior, men's 800-meter run – May 22, 6:15 p.m. (prelims) and May 23, 3:55 p.m. (finals)
- Elijha Owens, junior, men's 110-meter high hurdles – May 22, 6:50 p.m.
- Jessica Bridenthal, senior; Shatora Lewis, senior; Jamie Sindelar, junior; Megan Tomei, sophomore, women's shot put – May 23, 11:15 a.m.
- Elijah Talk, freshman; Jason Zahn, sophomore, men's shot put, May 23, 2:20 p.m.