Nebraska Wesleyan’s men limped into day one of the NCAA Division III Indoor Track & Field Championships, but they were feeling no pain amidst the celebration after winning the distance medley relay in Friday’s final event.
Ironically, it was a series of injuries which made NWU’s accomplishments on Friday seem that much more improbable and heroic.
It all began with long jumper Jed Droge (So., Pawnee City, Neb., Pawnee City High School), who hadn’t jumped in three weeks due to a groin injury and was competing for the first time on a national stage. Droge struggled during warm-ups, but managed to hit the board on all six of his attempts and finished sixth with a mark of 23 feet, 1 3/4 inches to earn All-America status and score three points.
“It was a gutsy effort,” head coach Dr. Ted Bulling said of Droge’s performance.
Next up was Ryan Tietjen (Sr., DeWitt, Neb., Tri County High School) in the weight throw. Tietjen’s back had been bothering him this week, but it didn’t stop him from throwing a career-best 57’11 1/4 and scoring another two points for the Prairie Wolves.
Then, it was time for the sprint prelims. Bret Blake (Sr., Lincoln, Neb., Northeast High School), who had been struggling of late with a recurring hamstring problem, ran the best time in Div. III this season in qualifying first for the finals of the 55 (6.38). Blake, the two-time defending national champ in the event, is seeking a three-peat.
Blake later teamed with Jeff Aldrich (Jr., Seward, Neb., Seward High School), Ben Thayer (Jr., Sidney, Neb., Sidney High School) and Chris Wolf (Fr., Ceresco, Neb., Raymond Central High School) on the men’s 4x400-meter relay team, which finished second in its heat and qualified for the finals with a time of 3:19.35. Thayer was a late substitute for Jason Peters (Fr., Lincoln, Neb., Southwest High School), who was diagnosed with a stress fracture in one of his feet earlier in the week. And since Thayer ran the 4x400 prelim, Bulling needed to shuffle his lineup in the distance medley. Vince Sickler (So., Kearney, Neb., Kearney High School) led off as he had on the team that broke the school record last week, but Evan Knight (Fr., Ogallala, Neb., Ogallala High School) moved up to replace Thayer on the 400 leg. Blake Henning (Jr., Beatrice, Neb., Beatrice High School) replaced Knight on the 800 leg, followed by Aaron Dye (Jr., Hebron, Neb., Thayer Central High School) who qualified for nationals in the mile, but instead chose concentrate his energies on anchoring the DMR.
“The result was not the fastest time of the year, but it was enough,” Bulling said.
Henning put the Prairie Wolves in the lead during his 800, and after Dye initially relinquished the lead in his leg, he came back to recapture the top spot with about 150 yards to go and won in 10:06.42.
“I’m so proud of the guys, and especially Ben, who knew he was sacrificing a chance to win the national title with the DMR, but his love of the team helped us win it and get the 4x400 qualified for the finals,” Bulling said.
With 15 points, the Prairie Wolves are second in the men’s team standings, just two points behind the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, heading into the meet’s second and final day. NWU will compete in five of the remaining nine events, and has a nine-point lead on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, which Bulling said is still the team to beat.
“The day couldn’t have gone any better for us,” Bulling said. “We’re in the hunt.”
On Saturday, Tietjen will compete in the shot put, followed by Derek Zulkoski (So., Columbus, Neb., Columbus High School) in the pole vault and Tyler Gingery (Sr., Holmesville, Neb., Lewiston High School) in the triple jump.
All three women who competed for Nebraska Wesleyan on Friday turned in impressive performances, but only Amy Vanderkolk (Jr., Malcolm, Neb., Malcolm High School) advanced to the finals. Vanderkolk’s time of 8.24 tied for the second fastest in the 55-meter hurdles.
“Amy ran a nice race and will be right in the mix tomorrow,” Bulling said.
Holly Andrews (Fr., Seward, Neb., Seward High School) and Katie Dobesh (Fr., Kearney, Neb., Kearney Catholic High School), both competing in their first national meet, ran 8.46 and 7.26 in the 55 hurdles and 55 dash, respectively. Dobesh’s time broke the team record of 7.27 previously shared by Marla Hess (1983), Amanda Jurgenson (1998) and Amy Fries (2003).