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Men’s track has solid showing in Joplin

The Oklahoma Christian University men’s track and field team continued their historic dominance of distance events and added a win in the long jump in their opener at the Missouri Southern Open Invitational last Friday and Saturday.

Due to an altered basketball schedule, the invitational was held a week earlier than last year.  Men’s track and field head coach Randy Heath was impressed with the team’s start following the break.

“I thought it was a real good opening meet,” Heath said. “Since it was the first week back in class, and we had been gone three weeks for Christmas break, I thought we performed real well.”

There are 26 indoor track team members, a large number of whom also represent Oklahoma Christian’s cross-country team.  These 11 seasoned athletes bring to the table a pair of national championships, the first of which came last year while in the NAIA; the team repeated this success in the  fall by adding yet another national championship, this time in the NCCAA.

With a strong reputation to uphold in distance events, senior Brayden Barrientez led the charge for the Eagles in the mile—grabbing a first-place finish with a time of 4:16.26, well ahead of the runner-up.

The Eagles finished with three runners in the top eight in the mile, with senior Geoffrey Njonjo coming in at the sixth spot and freshman Bryant Keirns grabbing the eighth position.

Sophomore Roberto Diaz continued the strong distance display for the Eagles, boasting a first-place finish in the 3,000-meter event with a time of 8:35.55.  Senior David McWilliams finished close behind Diaz to solidify second place for the Eagles, giving them a one-two finish for the 3,000-meter race.

Keirns then continued his afternoon taking the 5,000-meter event at 15:36.47, posting a third first-place finish for the Eagles.  This top spot in the 5,000 gave the freshman his first collegiate indoor win of his career.  Sophomore Timothy Zuercher finished second in the 5,000 with a time of 16:16.78.

The Eagles also ran well in the 800-meter event, grabbing three of the top 10 positions in a 15-man event.  Barrientez was squeaked out in the final steps of the 800 by host Missouri Southern’s Miles Migliara, handing Barrientez a second-place finish by a mere six hundredths of a second.  Freshman Ryan Lutterloh crossed in the fourth position and senior Nick Stoots rounded out the Eagles’ performance finishing eighth.

The Eagles’ mile relay team, composed of Lutterloh, freshmen Austin Wallace and Trenton Parker and junior Winston Ogletree ran their way to a fourth place finish in the event.  Their time of 3:34.33 put them in the top half of the eight-team race.

The men’s distance medley relay team grabbed Oklahoma Christian its fourth win in the meet.  Diaz, Lutterloh, Stoots and Barrientez ran a collective 10:30.99 to beat the host Missouri Southern and continue the historical success the Eagles enjoy in the distance medley.

Barrientez, who picked up an individual win in the mile, anchored the first-place distance medley relay team and finished second in the 800, received the NCCAA men’s student-athlete of the week award on Tuesday.  This is Barrientez’s second of his career, after receiving similar Sooner Athletic Conference honors last year.

The Eagles, some of whom were participating in events outside their norm, ran well and pleased Heath.

“Some of our guys were in events that were not their specialty for this first meet,” Heath said.  “We didn’t enter everything specifically like they are going to compete at the [NCCAA] national meet so, given the fact that some of them were out of event, those guys did well.”

Senior Tracy Marshall took the stage in the long jump on Friday, soaring his way to a first-place finish with a mark of 22 feet, 10 and-a-half inches.  Marshall also went on to qualify for the NCCAA championship in the triple jump with a mark of 43 feet, 10 inches.  Marshall’s win in the long jump gave Oklahoma Christian their fifth first-place finish in the meet.

Junior Larry Brown, who has been plagued by a nagging knee injury, still finished in the 10 spot in a 20-competitor field in the shot put.  Brown’s throw of 40 feet, six inches put him in the spotlight in Saturday’s field events for the Eagles.

Brown, who is working diligently to heal his knee, spoke of the goals of the team as a whole as they enter their first season with the NCCAA championships in mind.

“Pretty much our goal is to get as many people into the NCCAA nationals as we can,” Brown said. “[Coach Heath] is making up his own standards that we have to hit because the NCCAA standards are too easy.  He’s going to go somewhere between those standards and the [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics] standards so we can get as many people to nationals as we can.”

The Eagles look to build on their recent successes today and tomorrow in Lubbock, Texas as they make the trip west to compete in the Texas Tech Invitational.

The Eagles will once again lean on their distance and middle-distance runners, but hope that a healthy Brown will add to the success of the field event competitors.

Brown is keeping the focus for the invitational simple.

“The first meet was pretty good,” Brown said.  “We are just going to try to build on that.”

Heath also offered his insight into the strategy heading into the Texas Tech Invitational, including thoughts surrounding those who might have been competing outside of their normal events in the Missouri Southern Invitational.

“I think we’ll use more [distance runners] specific to their abilities,” Heath said.  “The other people, if they’re field events, sprinters or hurdlers, they’re going to be doing what they’ve been doing and competing in those events.”

Brown also expects big things from his team in the Texas Tech Invitational, suggesting that their preparation has put them in a great position to succeed.

“I think we are prepared pretty well; we have been working hard in practice doing what we can with what we have,” Brown said.  “Hopefully as we compete against better and better people, we will be able to compete better ourselves.”

The indoor season is made up of six meets, the first of which was the recent Missouri Southern Invitational.  The NCCAA Championships will mark the end of the indoor season, and will be held Feb. 15-16 in Marion, Ind.

The brief indoor season will be quickly followed by the outdoor season, which will start about a month after the indoor season’s conclusion.

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