Track team boasts biggest team ever for first-year coach

With no time to recruit high school athletes for track before stepping in as the Tabor head coach, Dave Kroeker focused on his own campus for potential performers.

The result? The biggest track team in Tabor history.

Kroeker has 31 athletes out-15 men and 16 women-with the possibility of a few basketball players joining the team now that the hoops season is over.

Kroeker said he simply is building on a good base left by former coach Karol Hunt, who gave up the role of head coach to spend more time in the classroom.

“Karol did a nice job and had a good group,” Kroeker said. “I just tried to talk to anybody I thought was an athlete. If they could run track, or throw or do something in the field, we tried to get them to come out.”

Kroeker participated in track in high school and helped coach throwing events for five years in Nebraska before coming to Tabor to teach in the business department.

“I’ve learned to love track, but I haven’t always coached track,” he said. “I had never been head track coach before. There’s things I need to learn. But I like to teach and I like to learn.”

Among his returning athletes are several All-KCAC performers: Adam Penner in the high jump, Karen Shearer with school-record performances in the 1,500- and 3,000-meter runs, and Stephanie Graber in the pole vault.

Shearer also qualified for All-KCAC honors as a member of the 4×800 relay. Also returning from that team are Kara Richert and Erica Fast.

Kroeker thinks his team could be strong in distance and middle-distance events this season.

Returning performers for the men include Jeremy Jost and Kevin Nickel in the steeple chase, and Pete Kleinsasser in middle distances.

Newcomer Landon Goertzen, a freshman from Henderson, Neb., ran a sub-two-minute 800 meters last year in high school.

“I don’t know a lot of the athletes and where they’re going to be in the conference,” Kroeker said. “This is my first year and I haven’t really coached any of them before.”

To make a run for a conference title against perennial power Southwestern, which specializes in distance events, Kroeker hopes to develop a team that will be strong in the throwing events.

“We’re going to be good in the throws,” he said. “There are four throws for both men and women (hammer, discus, shot put and javelin). There are basically four distance events for men and women. I hope we can balance what Southwestern does in the distance events with what we could do in the throwing events.

Among his first-year athletes are a couple of strong shot putters, Meaghan Coe and Tamara McCarren, and a state champion discus thrower, Angela Kroeker, who happens to be the coach’s daughter.

Kroeker isn’t expecting his team to challenge Southwestern this year, though. But he would like to join the next tier of two or three contenders in the next year or two.

“I don’t think we can go from where we are to conference champions in a year,” he said. “I look at building a program rather than quick-fixing.”

Kroeker hopes to build his team to 60 athletes in the years ahead. He likes recruiting and believes he can sell athletes on the value of track.

“I think track is a numbers program, sort of like football-which makes it more fun for the kids,” he said. “It will never be a big spectator sport-you’ll never get to play inside a packed gym with everyone screaming and hollering.

“It’s going to be pretty much you and whatever you do-and your teammates,” he said. “The more people out there who are encouraging you, the better. So we plan to bring our own fans along with a big team.”

Kroeker said key advantage of track is guaranteed participation in varsity events.

“There are no bench warmers in track,” he said. “Everybody who comes out for track gets to participate. We aren’t limited by the number of people we can enter in an event. So if we have six high jumpers, we’ll have six high jumpers entered in the event.”

Kroeker is assisted by Cara Marrs in the sprints and relays, Andy Shewey in the high jump and Shey Luster in distance running.

The Bluejays began training Jan. 15. The team participated in an indoor meet at Pittsburg State Feb. 16. The first outdoor meet of the season was canceled Thursday because of the weather.

The Bluejays’ next meet is scheduled for March 31 in McPherson.

“It’s been fun so far, the kids are working extremely hard,” Kroeker said.

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