Photo by: Henoc Kivuye
The Oklahoma Christian University track and field teams left for the Missouri Southern Indoor Invitational boasting nine qualified athletes for the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Indoor Championships.
“Overall we had a really good meet for the men and women,” Head Coach Randy Heath said. “We came out healthy and looking forward to Texas Tech.”
Heath said the team set a good foundation to improve upon for the rest of the season.
“We did very well this early,” Heath said. “The quality is there and we have to continue to build on it.”
The Eagles had qualified men for the Indoor Championships: sophomore Bryant Keirns in the 3000-meters, sophomore Austin Wallace in the 60-meter hurdles, junior Jamal George in the 200-meter dash, freshman Keegan Palmer in the triple jump and senior Larry Brown in the weight throw.
“The hard work from the offseason and coach Heath’s preparation is paying off,” George said. “The goal is to keep working hard and improving.”
Sophomore Timothy Zuercher took first place in the 5000-meter run, with sophomore Trent Stephens seizing fourth place close behind. Freshman Blake Thompson took 21st place out of 26 competitors in the mile.
Both teams had freshmen and transfer athletes who were competing for the first time.
Upperclassmen athletes encouraged the new runners.
“I just try to make sure they are calm and keep them focused, because being at a college meet for the first time can be overwhelming,” George said.
For the women, freshman Layne Hammer said she juggled those feelings after competing in her first collegiate track meet for the Lady Eagles, as well as her first indoor track meet.
“I felt OK going into the race,” Hammer said. “I was not too nervous about it, but I did not do as well as I had hoped.”
Heath emphasized a gradual improvement of performance throughout the season, noting the first meet is good for freshmen to acclimate to the higher level of competition.
“A lot of high schools do not have indoor track meets,” Heath said. “This meet is for them to transition and [is] an adjusting experience without too much pressure but still improve.”
Hammer came away with eighth place in the mile, and fellow teammate freshman Katie Jones came in 10th place.
Hammer plans to compete in the mile, 800, 3K and 5K throughout this track season. She feels that after more practice and faster interval workouts her times will improve.
“I want to qualify, and I am pretty sure I will,” Hammer said. “My fastest time is 5:07 and the qualifying standard is 5:35.”
Three Lady Eagles did qualify this weekend for the NCCAA Indoor Championship Meet, however.
Senior Andrea Dennis qualified in the 200-meter dash, while freshman Miranda Ostlund and junior Katie Ostlund both qualified in the weight throw.
Dennis was one of five Lady Eagles competing in the 200-meter race. Dennis finished in the top 10 in the 200-meter, with fellow senior Somer Helms coming in 14th out of 30 and sophomore Rebecca Bloodworth taking 16th out of 30. Senior Wilmina Gley and freshman Jerisha Fields finished in 20th and 28th, respectively.
Helms and Gley also competed in the 400-meter run, crossing the finish line with fifth and sixth-place times, respectively. Junior Maegan Cowan placed second in the 600-meter while sophomore Kara Drewke followed hot on her heels with her fourth place finish.
Drewke, Bloodworth, Gley and Dennis comprised the Lady Eagles’ 4×400 relay team, posting a final time of 4:12.05.
“We have pretty consistent performers,” Heath said. “We just have to duplicate their training to have more time to get prepared for coming meets.”
Heath said that team top-sprinter Dennis achieved the standard time for qualifying in this first meet. The team is fortunate to have multiple opportunities before the championship meet to tune their performances and have multiple qualifying entries, according to Heath.
Both teams did work around injuries in Missouri. Wallace competed, despite two injuries, to qualify in the 60-meter hurdle.
“Physically, I was not as ready because I just came off an injury over the break,” Wallace said. “I woke up Friday morning before leaving with a swollen left knee that was very painful to bend. Mentally, I just pushed through it even though there was pain.”
Wallace competed in multiple events during the indoor meet. Heath plans to train him to compete in the heptathlon as well.
“Doing good in hurdles lets me know I can do good in that and can focus more on some of my weaker events,” Wallace said.
Wallace will return to Missouri Southern in a couple weeks to compete in that event.
Heath said that constant evaluation and improvement will be essential to a good season for both teams. He intends for their results to continue to improve through the season, so that both teams will have a good showing at the NCCAA Indoor Championship meet at the close of season.
The Oklahoma Christian squads’ next meet is scheduled for next weekend in Lubbock, Texas, at the Texas Tech Open.