15 NCAA Div. III individual championships
It’s easy to get comfortable when you’re at the top, but heading into the 2013 campaign, the Central College men’s track and field team is anything but content.
The Dutch draw a sense of complacency from their four consecutive Iowa Conference outdoor titles or back-to-back top-10 NCAA Div. III finishes, but coach Joe Dunham knows the road to continued success won’t be an easy one.
“Sometimes the hardest thing to do is win when everyone is trying to knock you off,” said Dunham. “Last year’s seniors went undefeated in the biggest meet of each season and that is something to be proud of.”
The class of 2012 played a key role in last season’s success. Team MVP and multi-time all-American Kyle Wood was lost to graduation, in addition to three-time NCAA champion Ethan Miller. The duo of Wood and Miller collected seven league MVP awards over the past three years. All-American sprinters Allen Scovel and Trevor Veach, along with a duo of NCAA qualifiers in the throws, Phil Miller and Tyler Crouse, also graduated.
But the Dutch have reason to be optimistic. The current 62-man roster includes 27 returning letterwinners and boasts four All-America honorees including senior Logan Danko and junior Mitch Wagoner, veterans of the 4x100-meter relay, sophomore multi-eventer Eric Larson, and sophomore cross country all-American and league MVP Eli Horton.
Dunham expects good things from his squad in 2013.
“The athletes we have here are hungry,” said Dunham. “They want to win and they know what it takes. As a coach that’s all you can ask for.”
Despite graduation losses, Central should continue to be a heavyweight in the sprinting events. Led by Danko and Wagoner and bolstered by a talented freshman class, Dunham’s squad will continue to rely on this group for steady production.
“Anytime you lose quality sprinters like we had last year there is going to be a rebuilding process,” said Dunham. “But I am extremely excited about this group. We have great leadership coming back and a lot of new faces that should contribute right away.”
Other key players include sophomore Mason Zimmerman, a two-time league champion on relays for the Dutch and conference placewinner and senior team co-captain Phil Heisterkamp, along with junior Jordan Sump and newcomers De’Andre Currie, a junior, and Tyler Westphal, a senior. Freshmen Cole Ebel of Sutherland, Spencer Hammack of Ottumwa, Drake Hickok of Cedar Rapids, Austin Roberts of Bloomfield, and Dan Roemerman of Iowa City could also make an impact.
The Dutch will also benefit from new associate head coach Jim Fuller, former head coach at NCAA Division II Northern State University (S.D.).
“Jim has a great track record of success,” said Dunham. “Our athletes have been responding well to him and I have no doubt he’ll extend our success in this area.”
Ethan Miller dominated the league in the jumping events, collecting 10 championships over the past three years, but a number of Dutch athletes with already-solid credentials are looking to fill that void.
Senior co-captain Aaron Fuller was the indoor league champion in the pole vault last year. Sophomore Matt Strey earned all-conference recognition in the triple jump as a rookie while senior Emory Davis and sophomore Miles Barton were both placewinners. Meanwhile, Larson and sophomore Conner Freeman were point-getters in the high jump.
“We have quite a few quality jumpers returning,” said Dunham. “They stepped up in a big way at the outdoor conference meet last year and I’m confident they will be major contributors again.”
The Central coaching staff will also be strengthened by the addition of Jay Rhoten. Rhoten is a former assistant coach and all-American for the Dutch.
“We are fortunate to have Jay back on our staff,” said Dunham. “He was a great jumper here and will be a big boost for us in these events.”
Similar to the jumps, Ethan Miller was a hurdles mainstay for the Dutch, but Dunham is ready to welcome a new group of hurdlers into the fold. Larson and Barton were both placewinners as freshmen and will be joined by Sump and sophomore Jake Forgie. Hickok and Roemerman should also make an immediate impact.
“Our development in the hurdles that past couple years has been significant,” said Dunham. “I think we’ll surprise some people with our depth.”
Senior co-captain Ben Schornack will lead the middle distance crew for the Dutch. He was the indoor conference champion in the 800 meters in 2011, and he’ll be joined by 2012 indoor champion sophomore L.J. Lipscomb.
“Anytime you can return a couple of conference champions in an event you are in pretty good shape,” said Dunham. “This group will be counted on for several relays as well.”
Central swept the 4x800-meter titles at the indoor and outdoor conference meets last year. Junior Nick Barnes and sophomore Brandon Young contributed to those wins, and junior Clayton Fritz earned all-league honors in 2011. Freshmen Kyle Nuehring of Waukee will also look to make an impact.
“We have a good mix of veteran leadership and young talent,” said Dunham. “It will be a fun group to watch.”
After a banner 2012 cross country season, including Central’s first league championship in program history and a 12th-place finish at the NCAA meet, the Dutch will lean heavily on their distance crew this year.
“The best cross country season in program history has created some expectations for this group,” said Dunham. “And they are embracing the challenge.”
Horton played the role of front runner in cross country after a stellar freshman campaign on the track highlighted by wins in 1,500 and 5,000-meter runs at the outdoor conference meet. Sophomore Drew Jackson placed in multiple events as a rookie and will also play a lead role. They will be joined by senior cross country captain Brandon Clough, juniors Brent Ewing and Cody Doughan, and sophomore Tim Shepherd. Several freshmen could also make some noise. Cole Decker of Des Moines narrowly missed all-America honors in cross country, while transfer Riley Wattier of Waukee and Nuehring will also play a role.
“This is definitely the deepest we’ve been since I’ve coached here,” said Dunham. “One of the biggest challenges we’ll have is determining where everyone fits in.”
The graduation of Crouse and Phil Miller has left some question marks for the Dutch throwers, but Dunham likes his chances with the current squad.
“Losing two national qualifiers is never easy,” said Dunham. “But the group we have this year is determined to keep our tradition of success going.”
Senior Josh Fleming and junior Steve Messerschmidt will be key contributors. Fleming is a multiple-time league placewinner in the shot put, discus, and hammer throw, while Messerschmidt was the conference runner-up in the shot put last year.
Central will also welcome the addition of Brenda Fuller to the coaching staff. She was a highly successful throws coach at Northern State (S.D.).
“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” said Dunham. “Coach (Allan) Walz has done a great job the past few years and adding Brenda is a big boost. It is an exciting time to be a thrower at Central.”
While Ethan Miller was winning his second national title in the decathlon last year, Larson was quietly becoming one of the best multi-eventers in Division III. Larson scratched his way to an eighth-place finish at the NCAA indoor heptathlon before taking fifth at the outdoor decathlon as a freshman, earning two all-American plaques in the process.
“We’ve got some great guys coming back,” said Dunham. “Eric is one of the top returners in the country and Aaron (Fuller) should be solid as well.”
In addition to his pole vault prowess, Fuller was an all-conference decathlete in 2012. Freeman also scored points last spring, and they will be joined by freshman Jaemin Powell of Wellman.
“Being a multi-eventer at Central has a lot of meaning and I think Coach (Jim) Fuller understands that,” said Dunham. “We’ve relied on them at the conference and national meets and I’m confident they’ll come through for us again.”
Dunham’s goals haven’t changed since he’s been at Central.
“We always want to win the Iowa Conference,” said Dunham. “It’s a high-quality group of programs. I expect Wartburg to be a strong contender, as well as Loras and Luther.”
Even after four straight titles, he knows it won’t come easily.
“I don’t think people are going to peg us as the favorite this year,” said Dunham. “So we’ll be going at things from a different angle.”
After back-to-back top-10 finishes, the bar is set high at the national level. Dunham has lofty expectations again, but doesn’t want to get too specific.
“We just want to get as many qualifiers there as possible,” said Dunham. “The hardest part is just getting there. If we can qualify a lot of people than anything can happen.”