Even with four student-athletes studying abroad for the spring semester and two more currently serving in the military, the Nebraska Wesleyan track and field teams will again be more than 100 strong in 2006.
The NWU men, who have finished no lower than fourth at the NCAA Division III Championships since 2002, may actually be deeper in the sprints than last year, despite the graduation of 15-time All-American and five-time National Champion Bret Blake.
Seniors Jeff Aldrich, Tim Beckmann and Matt Turman join junior Gordie Coffin as returning outdoor national champions in the 4x100-meter relay. Aldrich was a member of the winning team in both 2003 and 2005, while Beckmann, who missed the last two seasons due to National Guard service in Iraq, belonged to the winning team in 2003.
Ben Thayer, a senior who also hurdles during the outdoor season, is back, as are sophomores Jason Peters and Chris Wolf. In addition, first-year athletes Dan Bittner, who was the 2004 Class D state champ in the 100-meter dash, and Matt Glasnapp, who won the 100 crown in Class B each of the last two years, should also make an impact, according to Head Coach Dr. Ted Bulling. Click here to see the 2006 men’s roster.
“Our sprints will be a strength, from the 55 indoors to the 400 outdoors,” Bulling said.
For the women, seniors Mary Kersenbrock and Erin Powell, junior Ashley Styskal and first-year runner Jaci Dick will anchor the sprint corps. Both Kersenbrock and Styskal have All-America awards to their credit in the 4x100 indoors, while Powell also has multiple All-America honors and Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) titles in the horizontal jumps.
“She is one of the best, if not the top athlete in the GPAC,” Bulling said of Powell, who was conference Athlete of the Year outdoors in both 2004 and 2005. She also shared top honors at the indoor league meet in 2004.
However, Bulling will be without his top sprinter in sophomore Katie Dobesh, who suffered a torn ACL in December, after winning both the 55 and 100 conference crowns as a first-year performer in 2005. Click here to see the 2006 women’s roster.
In the sprint hurdles, senior All-American Amy Vanderkolk and sophomore Holly Andrews will be among the favorites at the conference level and will strive to be repeat qualifiers for nationals again in 2006. The men are balanced and improving, with several athletes within .10 seconds of each other at the intra-squad meet in the 55-meter hurdles.
Senior Blake Henning and sophomore Evan Knight lead the middle-distance runners. Both earned All-America honors in the 800 and contributed to the indoor distance medley relay that won the NCAA indoor crown in 2005.
Senior Aaron Dye was also on the winning DMR and made All-America in the 1,500 individually in 2005. Meanwhile, twin brother Craig Dye placed nationally in the steeplechase and was an All-American in cross country last season. Chris Dunker, Guy McLaughlin, Jeremy Sokol, Greg Timblin and Cody Waite are among the other men to watch in the distance races.
The women’s distance crew is a young, but talented bunch. Junior Ashley Sabin, sophomore Amber Brandenburger and first-year runners Bridget Baldwin and Mercy Dinwiddie should give NWU the opportunity for a top-three finish as a team at the conference level.
Reigning GPAC cross country champion Brittany Hubbard, however, will be studying abroad in Australia for the spring semester.
“It won’t be easy being without our top sprinter (Dobesh) and our top distance runner (Hubbard), but our returners will have to step up,” Bulling said.
In the field events, Jennifer Nunnenkamp and Rachel Seidel will lead the women’s throwers, while senior Mira Brown will team with a crop of newcomers in the pole vault. Vaulters Hannah Rankin, who won the Class A state title in 2005, and Ashley Lovegrove both have the ability to break NWU’s first-year records.
The men will feel the loss of All-American Ryan Tietjen in the throws, where junior Chris Krueger is the team’s top returner. In the jumps and vaults, NWU has three GPAC champions from 2005 returning, including: Jed Droge (indoor long jump), Austin Novotny (outdoor high jump) and Derek Zulkoski (outdoor pole vault).
Men’s teams in the league will again be chasing NWU, which has won 15 of the last 17 indoor conference titles and 17 outdoor league crowns in a row.
“In track and field, we don’t play defense, so all we can do is control how good we are,” Bulling said. “We expect to be among the top few men’s teams in the country, but more than winning, our goals are to have everyone in our entire program improve and reach his or her potential.”