Inside and out, MNU track and field in the running for titles
In February, both men’s and women’s track and field teams won the Heart of America indoor track and field conference championships. In March, 20 MNU athletes went to nationals, with four returning as NAIA All-Americans. Now, the teams look to carry momentum into the outdoor season.
Head coach Nate Wiens, Heart of America Conference coach of the year for both the men’s and women’s teams, said that it was a long but extremely successful season for the second-year program. Wiens said one of the challenges of the season was finding different ways to motivate and encourage the athletes.
“Everybody has a different motivation, a different focus,” Wiens said. “As a coaching staff, our focus is to try to make sure that the team stays motivated.”
From a logistical standpoint, missing class for Friday meets and MNU’s lack of designated track and field facilities provided challenges over the course of the season.
“Friday meets. Missing class. It messes with your training cycles. Facilities. It’d be nice to have an indoor track but I think that God’s blessed us with a lot of different opportunities to still really maintain a high level of training,” Wiens said.
Though Wiens said that he was pleased with the effort that the Pioneers took to nationals, the team did not score as well as they had hoped. Now, Wiens is optimistic for the future of the program.
“We’re taking strides forward every time,” Wiens said. “We did better than we did last year and next year we’ll do better than we did this year.”
Dacia Harris, Isaac Zitterkopf, Michael Lewis and Raiven Ellis received All-American honors in the NAIA indoor national championships, each placing in the top eight of their respective events. These individual honors came just two weeks after both the men’s and women’s teams dominated the indoor conference championships where other Pioneers garnered several more awards.
Harris, who placed eighth at nationals in the pentathlon, has broken the school record for the pentathlon three times at MNU. Even with her record-setting performances, Harris said that she treats indoor competition like a preseason for the outdoor season. But for her indoor goals, Harris said she was pleased with the results.
“I was ranked 15th in the women’s pentathlon and I told myself I was going to do better than what I was ranked and I did that,” Harris said. “I also told myself to beat my own record. I tell myself, ‘Dacia, you do you boo-boo.’”
Zitterkopf, a sophomore jumper and two-time Heart of America field athlete of the year and 2017 regional field athlete of the year, took eighth in the high jump but said he still would have liked to place higher in his other two jumping events. Zitterkopf said that he was especially disappointed by the fact that the men’s 4x400 meter relay team missed the finals by just a few seconds.
Wiens and the athletes agreed that while the indoor season had many highs and lows, outdoor season brings a different story. Wiens said that preparation has begun for outdoor, but the team still has work to do.
“The job at this point in time is to rest a little, regroup and by the time we hit the outdoor season be hungry and healthy,” Wiens said. “I think our success in the indoor season will only continue to build in the outdoor season.”
Harris said that the location of the track has no bearing on what she expects from herself.
“Some people like indoor season better. Some people like outdoor season. To me, I’m going to do good regardless,” Harris said.
Zitterkopf thought of the indoor season as a step in the right direction for the outdoor season.
“The way I look at indoor is just a stepping stone for outdoor season. It gets the ball rolling. Better, faster, stronger,” Zitterkopf said.
If the plethora of recent success is any indication, Wiens said the 2017 outdoor season looks promising for the young MNU track and field program.
“Get excited,” Wiens said. “We’re gonna be good.”
MNU track and field will open its outdoor season on April 1 at the Emporia State Relays.
Carlos Guzman- More by this author
Carlos Guzman ('19) is a sophomore at MNU. He is from Overland Park, KS. He is the Opinion Editor for The Trail Blazer. He is a biology major with an emphasis in pre-medicine and is also pursuing a minor degree in Youth and Family Ministry. He aspires to become a physician. Carlos is also on the cross country and track and field team.