Coming off a fifth-place finish at the KCAC Indoor Track and Field Championships in early February, the Tabor College men’s and women’s teams opened its spring season March 15 with an encouraging start at the Southwestern Invitational.
Head coach Dave Kroeker said several of his athletes qualified for indoor nationals and some have already qualified for the outdoor nationals after one meet.
For the men, throwers led the way. Austin Cheatham, a red-shirt freshman from Hesston, qualified for indoor nationals in the shot put, as did Robert Phillips, a junior from Chula Vista, Calif.
“Those are guys in our shot put outdoors that I would expect to be top performers,” Kroeker said.
“Austin has in fact already qualified for outdoor nationals at Southwestern in the discus, also. That was a surprise to him and to me.
On Monday he told me he’s never throwing discus again, but his friend Rob (Phillips) kind of goaded him into throwing and he qualified.”
In the NAIA, athletes qualify for nationals by meeting either an A standard or B standard. Cheatham qualified with an A standard at Southwestern.
“He had a perfect right-handed discus wind that day,” Kroeker said.
He said senior Johnny Loera has the best hammer throw in the KCAC after one meet, and Phillips should be strong in the hammer, too.
“He’s second in the conference right now, both in the hammer and the discus,” Kroeker said about Phillips. “He will do well in those events.”
Trajen Smith, a freshman from Wellsville, has qualified for outdoors nationals with a B standard throw in javelin. He threw 200 feet at the Southwestern meet.
On the track, junior Shevon Blair is turning in good times early in the spring season after qualifying for the indoor nationals in the 600 and 800 (meters).
“He’s running the 400-meter hurdles outdoors and missed a B standard qualification by 0.04 of a second on Thursday in a big wind,” Kroeker said.
“If he gets a decent day he’ll qualify in the 400-meter hurdles. He also will help our 4×400 team. He’s a good 400-meter guy, and a good 800-meter guy.”
Parker Findley is a sophomore 110-meter hurdler. He was third in the KCAC outdoor meet last year, but struggled with injuries during the indoor season.
In the jumps, Hillsboro native Avery Franz returns this spring as the defending KCAC champion in the triple jump.
“I would say he is somebody who will do well for us,” Kroeker said.
Sophomore Caleb Gaede placed third in the conference in high jump a year ago.
“We’ve got some other guys who are decent, but if we’re talking about all-conference athletes, I’m pretty sure those would the ones,” Kroeker said.
As for running events, “We don’t have a real strong group in the mid-distance and distance races on the men’s side,” he said.
The group most likely to generate the most points are the throwers.
“We will be better outdoors than we were indoors because of all the throwing events,” Kroeker said. “We should be top half for sure.
“We’re probably not going to compete for a conference championship, but we could be third or fourth. In my mind, third would mean everybody did really, really well on those days.”
Kroeker has 21 athletes on the men’s roster and the women will compete with 13. Like the men’s team, some women have already made a mark this season.
Sophomore Emily Kemling qualified for outdoor nationals at the first meet. At the KCAC indoors championship, she earned all-conference honors in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters.
“Aaliyah Manuz, a freshman hurdler, ran a decent 400-meter hurdle race on Thursday,” Kroeker said. “I would say she should be in the top eight in the 400-meter hurdles.”
In the jumps, freshman Sarah Bird from Quinter placed at the conference indoor meet and should do the same in the outdoor meet, according to Kroeker
“She went over 17 feet (at Southwestern),” he added. “That was a good opening week for her.”
Marah Franz, a Hillsboro native, won the pole vault last year at the KCAC meet.
“She should be in the top two or three this year, if not win it again,” Kroeker said.
The team has two freshmen throwers, Kaileigh Dill and Madison Johnson, and both show potential.
“Kaileigh’s primary event is discus,” he said. “She threw very well at Southwestern. I think the women’s discus is going to be pretty tough this year in the conference, so it would be hard for her to get into the top three. But I would say she should be in the top eight in discus and shot put.
“Madison Johnson has thrown the hammer well,” he added. “I would say she would be somebody who could score for us.”