15 NCAA Div. III individual championships
PELLA—Six Central College men’s indoor track and field athletes will journey to Massachusetts for the Tufts University Cupid Challenge and the Boston University Scarlet and White Invitational Feb. 15 in hopes that elite competition will spur them to performances that qualify for the NCAA Division III Championships.
Senior Austin O’Brien (Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley HS), juniors Eli Horton (Runnells, Southeast Polk HS), Drew Jackson (Johnston) and LJ Lipscomb (Johnston) and sophomores Cole Decker (Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) and Kyle Nuehring (Waukee) will combine for the distance medley relay and some individual events at Tufts in the morning, then compete in a handful of events that evening at Boston University.
The distance medley relay is made up of four legs—1,200-meters, 400-meters, 800-meters and 1,600-meters—in that order.
“I chose these athletes for flexibility,” coach Joe Dunham said. “In case of injury or sickness, they can run many different distances. LJ and Drew can fill anywhere from the 400-meter leg to the 1,200, so they’re the perfect guys to bring.”
The NCAA increased the number of runners and relay teams for the March 14-15 national meet at Lincoln, Neb. this season. Last season’s Dutch distance medley relay team posted the 13th-fastest time in the country. That finish left Central two spots out of the national meet but would have made the cut under the new standards. Central will have additional opportunities to qualify this year, but Dunham wants his team to be able to post a low time before the last chance meets in late February and early March.
“Qualifying for the distance medley relay is one of the hardest things to do if you don’t have any teams to run against,” Dunham said. “There’s really only one meet in the Midwest where you can qualify in the event and it’s early in the season. It’s tough to be ready to run fast and it’s been a real disadvantage for us in the past.
“It became a one-and-done scenario for our relay team in past years because we had to wait to qualify at the last chance meet. This takes a little pressure off.”
Central’s distance medley relay record is 9:59.12, set in 2006 by Brian Respeliers, Guy Dierikx, Teddy Clark and former Dutch assistant Bryan George. The relay—with Zach Zellweger in place of Dierikx—placed fourth at that year’s NCAA indoor championships.
This season’s top distance medley time is 9:53.45, set by Bates’ Stansel, Levy, McCauley and Graboys.
“The distance medley relay is set up to be a fast race,” said Dunham. “Some of the top Division III distance programs in the country will be there, so it will be a competitive meet.
“At the end of the day it’s all about competing at a high level and that’s what trips like this can encourage.”
Lipscomb and Nuehring will run the 800-meter run and mile, respectively, at Tufts, while Decker, Horton, Jackson and O’Brien will compete in the 5,000-meter run at Boston.
“The distance medley relay is one of the first events at Tufts in the morning so we’ll have all day to recover,” said Dunham. “So the cool thing is that those four guys—whichever four it may be—will run the distance medley relay, while the other guys will run some open events.
“It’s the perfect scenario for our athletes.”
None of Central’s competitors have registered a 5,000-meter time this season, but the group has dominated the middle-distance and distance events in its first three invitationals.
Decker posted the team’s fastest 800-meter run in 2:04.45 and the third-fastest time in the 3,000-meter run in 8:36.69. Jackson has the team’s best 1,000-meter run in 2:35.06, while Horton has the best mile in 4:13.29 and is ranked No. 12 in the event nationally. O’Brien broke Horton’s 2013 3,000-meter run record in 8:26.72 to sit No. 8 in the 3,000 meters and is No. 14 in the mile. O’Brien and Jackson also competed as part of the distance medley relay for Central’s first registered time this season, winning Grinnell’s Darren Young Classic in 10:29.32 last Saturday.
Lipscomb holds the team’s fastest 600-meter run this season in 1:25.01 and the second-fastest 400 in 52.19. Nuehring has the second-fastest 1,000 meters in 2:37.89.
The distance medley relay is set up to be a fast race due to the competition in the morning, while the 5,000-meter run will be fast due to the track’s design as well as the entrants. Dubbed the fastest track in the country by Nike coach Alberto Salazar, Boston’s Track and Tennis Center has seen Galen Rupp set two American records in the past month, including the 5,000-meter run.
“It’s Boston University,” Dunham said. “It’s on a fast track and it’s going to be great competition. It’ll be good to run on it and it’ll be a great experience for our student-athletes.
“The 5K is the highlighted event that night and it’ll be exciting.”
And the trip is about more than the times they run.
“It’s a big part of recruiting,” Dunham said. “We’re trying to give recruits a vision. Central is prestigious academically and provides a great education with smaller class sizes and involved professors. That’s a huge advantage.
“This is a great opportunity for our athletes. They’ve all worked really hard to get to this point and hopefully we can take more trips like this down the road.
“It’s something I believe is really important.”
The Tufts Cupid Challenge is slated to begin at 10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time Saturday, while the Boston University 5,000-meter run is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. Saturday night.