Balance and strength, two words Head Coach Dr. Ted Bulling used to describe the 2005 Nebraska Wesleyan track and field teams, are fitting adjectives for NWU’s top returnees this season.
For the women, Erin Powell exhibited both balance and strength in winning Outstanding Athlete honors at the Great Plains Athletic Conference indoor and outdoor championships in 2004. Already a four-time All-American, Powell has the ability to score in multiple events (sprints, long jump and triple jump).
For the men, Bret Blake became the first man at NWU to win four national titles in track as he won the outdoor 200-meter dash and repeated as the indoor champion in the 55-meter dash last season. Led by Blake and his efforts in everything from the 55 to the 4x400 and distance medley relay, the Prairie Wolves continue to rack up conference crowns and have finished no lower than fourth at any of the last four NCAA Division III Championships.
Blake and Powell lead the way, but experienced supporting casts are in place for Bulling, who said the men will be strong in all areas, the women will be a very balanced team and both will be major players in the GPAC this year.
Nebraska Wesleyan’s women were runners-up at both conference meets and claimed a pair of top-20 team finishes at nationals in 2004, but lost decorated sprinter Erin Dukich and distance runner Gina Morgan to graduation.
Bulling said he expects senior Kami Long and sophomore Ashley Sabin to lead his distance crew and noted the improvement of sophomores Brenda Faimon, Jill Hansen and Amber Phipps during the cross country season. All-Americans Kristi Lockhart and Ashley Styskal join Powell in leading the sprinters, while junior Amy Vanderkolk is back in the hurdles.
“Our women have a chance to be a NCAA top-10 type of team,” Bulling said.
In field events, Jennifer Nunnenkamp is the top returning thrower, along with Morgan Butler and Rachel Seidel, while Mira Brown leads the NWU vaulters. To view the women’s roster, click here.
“The Nebraska Wesleyan men have a distance crew Bulling called “very possibly the strongest in the NCAA.”
Returning All-Americans Levi Ashley, Aaron Dye and Blake Henning join national caliber runners Craig Dye, Rob Hruska, Vince Sickler, Greg Timblin and Tom Unger.
NWU placed four in the top six in the GPAC’s 100 final last year. In addition to Blake and Jeff Aldrich, who was on the national championship 4x100 in 2003, Gordie Coffin and Matt Turman also competed at nationals in 2004. Scott Burns, Derek Carson and Ben Thayer give the Prairie Wolves even more depth in the sprints.
In the throws, senior Ryan Tietjen will look to build on his list of credentials, which already includes four GPAC titles and four All-America awards. Chris Collins, Chris Hadden, Chris Krueger and Dustin Stuehrenberg are among the others to watch.
“Our men have the potential, and I mean to emphasize the word potential, to be among the top two or three teams in the country,” Bulling said. “We have a tremendous amount of work to do before that can happen, but it is possible.”
Bulling called the hurdles the most improved area of the men’s team and noted the return of Ryan Aspegren, Alex Israelson, Isaac Jefferson, Scott Lervold and Craig Pekny.
Tom George, Matt Hampl, Travis Wagenknecht and Derek Zulkoski all return to form the core of vaulters. Senior Tyler Gingery, Turman and an influx of athletes who were very successful at the high school level are expected to contribute in the horizontal jumps, according to Bulling. Meanwhile, the NWU high jumpers will take on a new look being entirely made up of first-year athletes. Click here to view the men’s roster.
Some of Nebraska Wesleyan’s athletes competed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Holiday Inn Open last week, but a majority of the Prairie Wolves will see their first action at the Ward Haylett Invitational on Saturday in Crete. To view the indoor and outdoor schedules, click here.