For a program which has accomplished as much as Ashland University track and field has over the last three decades, to say the Eagle men's indoor team is and could be on the way to doing unprecedented things is saying a lot.
Ashland's men's indoor team is the No. 1-ranked squad in NCAA Division II for the fourth week in a row, after topping the national indoor rankings just one prior time this decade. One look at the individual rankings for several Eagle individuals and relays suggests a potential run at the program's first team national championship.
Since 1987, Ashland's men have finished second in the country as a team twice (2011, 2013), and third twice (1989, 2014) indoors. There's only one place left to go, and while team and individual rankings are nice in January and February, the Eagles are keenly aware that what matters is what takes place at the 2017 NCAA Division II National Championships, March 9-11 in Birmingham, Ala.
"They know that. We don't have team meetings that become pep rallies and talk about how good we are," said Ashland head coach Jud Logan. "We talk about where we're at and how proud we are, but we also realize we need to keep doing the right things. Just keep a narrow focus on a team goal. If we do that, we'll be fine."
Said senior thrower Bryn Campbell, "You never know until the meet actually happens. I've been here for five years, and I've never had a well-balanced team like we have this year. We have people in the distance, we have throwers, we have runners, we have two relays going to nationals right now. I just think this is absolutely amazing.
"I'm looking for the win. I'm looking for the national championship. If we do what we did to get to nationals, we will be happy."
One regular-season weekend remains prior to the 2017 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships (Feb. 25-26 in Findlay, Ohio) and indoor nationals. Ashland's men have two more shots to improve on what already is an impressive group of nationals-caliber performances this winter:
- Sophomore Myles Pringle leads the country in the 400-meter dash (46.11 seconds) and the high jump (2.17 meters/7-feet-1½), is fourth in the nation in the 200 dash (21.39 seconds) and is part of the 4x400 relay team, along with senior Columbus Millet, sophomore Devin Snowden and freshman Paul Murray, which moved into the No. 3 spot in Division II last week at the GVSU Big Meet at 3:12.59.
- Ashland boasts six of the top 10 weight throwers in the country – junior Daniel Roberts (first, 22.20 meters/72-feet-10), senior Jordan Crayon (second, 20.86 meters/68-feet-5¼), redshirt freshman Alex Hill (fifth, 20.36 meters/66-feet-9¾), Campbell (sixth, 20.29 meters/66-feet-7), junior Clayton Jury (seventh, 20.04 meters/65-feet-9) and redshirt freshman Nick Zak (10th, 19.46 meters/63-feet-10¼).
- Also at the GVSU Big Meet, Ashland's distance medley relay team of junior Hunter Heaton, Murray, sophomore Tyler Sievert and senior Nick Hall turned in the fourth-best time in the country this season at 9:47.98.
"The whole men's team, all across the board, in practice and in meets, you can feel the energy," Murray said. "We just go into practice and meets knowing we are pretty good, and knowing we've got to keep working to maintain that number one spot."
Logan has said in the past he doesn't want just a throws program, but a well-rounded track program. The results this season are inarguable.
"We're accomplishing that goal," he said. "My number one thing coming into this year is I knew that we'd be stronger than we were a year ago. Some kids just a year older, a little more mature, some coming off redshirts. This is a good team, but we also talked about, if we're going to do well, we need the front-end and the back-end relays.
"What we've tried to do is spread the scholarship money around to allow that to happen. The addition of Hunter Heaton, who transferred here, has been a godsend for our DMR. That was the piece that was missing. Of course, Myles Pringle, what he's done this year, has been nothing short of astounding. We've got a lot of strength in the throws, but if you're going to get on the podium and be one of the top four teams at the NCAAs, you're going to have to have that depth in some of the other events."
Said Murray, "We've transformed from a throwing program to an elite track program."