15 NCAA Div. III individual championships
2014 Iowa Conference indoor finish: 2nd
2014 Iowa Conference outdoor finish: 2nd
2014 NCAA Div. III indoor finish: 10th
2014 NCAA Div. III outdoor finish: 53rd (tie)
2014 NCAA Div. III indoor national ranking: 11th
2014 NCAA Div. III outdoor national ranking: NR
2014 NCAA Div. III indoor qualifiers: Eli Horton (3,000-meter run), Austin O'Brien (5,000-meter run), Horton, O'Brien, Spencer Hammack, Drew Jackson (distance medley)
2014 NCAA Div. III outdoor qualifiers: Eli Horton (5,000-meter run), Austin O'Brien (5,000-meter run)
Returning NCAA qualifiers: 3 - Spencer Hammack, Eli Horton, Drew Jackson
Letterwinners lost: 12
Letterwinners returning: 28
After finishing runner-up in both the indoor and outdoor Iowa Conference Championships in 2014 the Central College men’s track and field team is seeking to get back to its traditional title-winning form.
The Dutch have won three of the past five indoor and four of the past six outdoor league crowns.
“We always have the same goal and that is to win a conference championship,” said seventh-year coach Joe Dunham. “We want to be conference champions and that’s a tall order. We’ve got some really good teams in our conference.”
Central placed 10th at the indoor NCAA Division III Championships last season behind a national championship in the distance medley relay. Three-fourths of the relay team--senior Eli Horton, junior Spencer Hammack and senior Drew Jackson--return. Horton also earned all-America honors in the indoor 3,000-meter run and the outdoor 5,000-meters.
Also back for Central is senior multi-eventer Eric Larson. The 2013 indoor heptathlon and outdoor decathlon national champion returns after missing most of last season due to injury.
The team returns 28 letterwinners from last year’s squad.
“The number one goal is always to get each individual better,” said Dunham. “We really focus on the process and then hopefully the product will reveal itself through the hard work the kids have put in.”
The Dutch have received some national recognition already this season, being ranked No. 6 in the USTFCCCA Division III Indoor Track and Field Preseason National Team Computer Rankings.
In addition to Hammack, Central returns a few veterans in sprinting events. Senior co-captain Mason Zimmerman has earned all-conference honors for the Dutch in each of his first three seasons. Junior Dan Roemerman is back after placing in the top five in the 100-meter dash at the outdoor conference meet.
“We have a good group of sprinters that have just done a good job through the years,” said Dunham.
The Central coach sees a promising future in the sprints thanks to freshmen Blake Morgan, Hunter Howe and Hunter Pollpeter.
“We have some freshmen that are really starting to push our upperclassmen,” said Dunham. “There is a lot to be said about where we are with our depth with our sprinters.”
Sophomore Logan Mulford is off to a great start indoors in the high jump. His mark of 6 feet, 10.25 inches ranked among Division III’s best.
Other athletes that will contribute in the jumping events for Central include Larson, senior Brian Zahnle, senior Mike Mackin, junior Jaemin Powell and freshman Justin Wimbish.
“I think our jumps are going to be a real strong point for our team,” said Dunham. “Just keeping people healthy is going to be the key. A lot of those guys are doing multiple events and doing a lot of different things so I think health is my biggest concern.”
The hurdles has been an area of strength for Central in recent years. Roemerman won the 110-meter hurdles at the outdoor conference meet each of the past two seasons. Larson won the 60-meter hurdles at the indoor league meet and finished in the top five in the 110-meter hurdles outdoors.
Dunham also sees a lot of potential in sophomore Logan Weers.
“Logan Weers has really taken advantage of the offseason and has gotten stronger,” said Dunham. “It has started to show on the track.
Other key contributors for the Dutch in the hurdles are Pollpeter and freshman Andrew Cowles. Junior Austin Roberts, freshman Tate Jensen and sophomore Zac Quick will look to carry Central in the 400-meter hurdles once the outdoor season begins.
Another successful Central cross country season in the fall bodes well for the mid-distance and distance events on the track. The Dutch finished third at the NCAA Central Regional and earned a spot in the NCAA Division III Championships for the third consecutive year. They placed 11th at the national meet, just five points out of the top 10. Junior Cole Decker was the conference MVP and Horton finished 28th at the national meet to earn all-America distinction for the third year in a row.
Horton is back for his senior campaign on the track and seeking a third straight trip to the indoor and outdoor national meets.
Senior Jamie Vander Veer, who is also a part of the Dutch cross country team, earned all-conference honors for both his indoor and outdoor performances last season. He placed third in the indoor and outdoor 800 meters, second in the 1,500-meters and second as a member of the 4x800-meter relay team.
“Jamie had a great year last year and really improved a lot,” said Dunham. “Probably the biggest jump for him was this fall in cross country. He improved dramatically.”
Central has a lot of depth, with junior Kyle Nuehring and freshmen Jeremy Caracci, Taylor Donner, Mark Fairley, Cole Folken and Nick Guzman.
Central is looking to continue its recent dominance in distance events this season.
“We have a lot of options in the distance events,” said Dunham. “Eli Horton has been the team captain and a guy who has really led the team. Drew Jackson is an absolute monster. For him to get back and be healthy is really exciting.”
Jackson dealt with injuries during the fall, but is healthy now and looking to win the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the outdoor conference meet for the third year in a row. Horton holds the school record in the 5,000 meters and has won the 1,500- and 5,000-meters at the conference meet in each of his first three seasons. He placed third in the 3,000-meters at the indoor national meet and fourth in the outdoor national 5,000-meters last season.
Decker is another key returner. He holds the top time in the 10,000-meters in Central history and went to the national meet in the event two years ago. Sophomore Isaac Steffensmeier burst onto the scene last season, earning all-conference honors in the outdoor 5,000-meters.
“Isaac Steffensmeier is looking really good right now, he is really fit,” said Dunham. “He has put in a lot of hard work over break.”
The Dutch have a strong group returning in the throwing events. Senior co-captain Gunnar Johnson is back after finishing in the top five of the shot put at both the indoor and outdoor league meets. Dunham is also looking for big things out of junior Chris Davis.
“I am so impressed with Chris Davis’s work ethic and the improvements that he has made from last season to this season,” said Dunham. “He is going to be huge for us.”
Junior Kody Dailey won the javelin at the outdoor conference meet in 2014.
“He will have a very good chance to qualify for the national meet,” said Dunham. “He has been working hard. I think the javelin is going to be a great event for him and I’m excited to see what he can do.”
The presence of sophomore Jon Power, sophomore Jordan Sanders, junior Trent Smothers and sophomore Jake Webb gives Central strong depth.
“There is no doubt in my mind the throws will be extremely strong for us this year as they have been in the past,” said Dunham.
Central has earned a national reputation in the multi-events in recent years and Larson is looking to continue the trend. Peter Wagner (2001, 2003) and Ethan Miller (2011, 2012) were two-time national decathlon champions and Larson is looking to match that feat. Larson won both the indoor heptathlon and outdoor decathlon in 2013 before being sidelined most of last season with an injury.
He showed no signs of injury early in the indoor season, posting an impressive score at the Dutch Athletics Classic Jan. 24-25 before smashing his own school record with 5,399 points at the University of Nebraska’s Husker Invitational while besting a field of 10 Division I athletes Feb. 7.
“He is going to be a guy we use a lot at the conference meet,” said Dunham. “He probably won’t run the heptathlon at the (indoor) meet but he will do a lot of open events and then he will do the heptathlon at the (indoor) national meet. I’m very excited to see what he can do as we move forward.”
Also competing in the multi-events are senior Conner Freeman and junior Jaemin Powell. They are joined by a newcomer to the multi-events, freshman Reese Iversen.
“Reese looks like he is very promising,” said Dunham. “He is a very athletic kid and he has some potential to do some special things”
The outdoor season begins March 27 in St. Louis at the Washington University (Mo.) Invitational. The Dutch will have two home outdoor meets, hosting the Central Invitational April 2 and a dual with Simpson April 18. The Iowa Conference Championships will be hosted by Simpson in Indianola May 7-9 and the NCAA Division III Championships will be held in Canton, N.Y. May 21-23.