The Tabor College track and field team is primed for a successful season with a number of key athletes returning under the direction of 15th-year coach Dave Kroeker.
Tabor will be led by senior Hannah Holmes, a returning national qualifier in the marathon, whom Kroeker said has come into her own in the past year.
Having finished 13th in the marathon at the NAIA outdoor championships last season (3:23:04.20), Holmes has already qualified for the 2015 championships and has her eye set on earning All-American status by placing among the top eight.
?(Hannah?s) just growing as a runner,? Kroeker said. ?When she really started getting some confidence was last year at nationals in the marathon. She really performed well.?
Kroeker said Holmes also will contribute in the 10,000 and 5,000.
?I think the top eight (in the marathon) is definitely within reach. If she just continues to build on where she is now, I think she?s going to just really finish well.?
Holmes will be called upon to replace some of the points provided by three graduated seniors: last year?s KCAC pole vault champion Kristen Harris, who also received all-KCAC honors in the 400-meter hurdles; Brielle Lund, who received all-conference honors in the 5,000; and Maken?zie King.
?Both Brielle and Kristen were big point scorers,? Kroeker said. ?We?re not going to replace the points in the events they were in, but Hannah is already running times way faster than Brielle did last year, just indoors. She has just exploded.?
Kroeker also will call upon some younger athletes to step up to provide ?excellent individual results.?
Three sophomores join Holmes as returning key contributors: Ashton Kroeker (triple jump, high jump, 400), Sarah Hagen (400) and Katey Whitesell (5,000).
?We?re going to have to have some of our sophomores step up,? Kroeker said. ?We?ve got a couple of freshmen that might surprise some people, too.?
Kroeker highlighted Jessica Samuel (400) and Paula Young (steeplechase, 1,500) to anchor an incoming group of freshmen.
?Our youngsters are going to have to step up,? he said.
A key strength for the team this season is consistency, both in training and performance, Kroeker said.
Four seniors will anchor the men?s team this outdoor season. Kroeker said he anticipates a strong showing.
Leading the way will be returning national bronze medalist Garrett Daugherty, whose effort at the NAIA outdoor championships earned him third place in the 800-meter run with a time of 1 minute, 51.41 seconds. This year, Daugherty has his mind set on winning.
?Last year, (Garrett) came into his own, and I think he just surprised everybody at the national meet,? Kroeker said. ?He?s not going to surprise anybody this year. He has legitimate reason to say, ?I could be a national champion.??
Kroeker spoke of Daugh?erty?s progression since the start of his collegiate career.
?Coming out of high school, he was a good runner, but he was not an 800-meter runner,? he said. ?He?s just kind of found his niche.?
Daugherty will try to defend his KCAC championship, having won the 1,500 a year ago. He finished second in the 800, and anchored the conference-cham?pion 4×800 relay, as well as the 4×400 and 4×100, which both placed second.
Tyler Entz will try to defend his conference championship in the high jump, while Joel Allen returns to the track following an injury last spring.
?(Joel) was hurt all of outdoor last year,? Kroeker said. ?Had a great indoor meet and then it was just kind of a mystery injury that kept him out the whole time.?
Allen, whom Kroeker said is back to full strength, will compete in the 5,000 and the steeplechase.
?He?s going to refocus a little bit,? he said. ?That?s going to be a little bit different for him, but I think he?ll be competitive in both of those races at the top of the conference.?
Tabor?s fourth senior, Keith Francis, will be a force on the track in the 400 and 200.
Additional key returners are junior Bret Mueller (800) and sophomores Caleb Blue (400, 200), Josh Richert (800) and Daniel Quiring (shot put, hammer). Blue finished second in the KCAC in the 400 last season.
Kroeker has added a number of newcomers, including senior Shawn Johnston (javelin, hammer), junior Tyler Parrish (800), sophomore Jonathan Gibson (shot put) and freshmen Avery Franz (triple jump), Oree Johnson (sprints), Zac Krehbiel (sprints), Caleb Neufeld (discus) and Johnny Loera (shot put).
?Where we?re going to really make improvements as a team is going to be in the throws,? Kroeker said. ?We did really well on the track last year, not as good in the throws. We?re really young in the throws right now, mostly freshmen and sophomores, or first-year like Shawn Johnston.?
Tabor lost seven seniors to graduation, including Alex Grier, who won the KCAC 200, placed second in the 100 and ran on the 4×100. Additional graduating seniors include: David Loewen (javelin, high jump), Robert Nenadal (discus, hammer), Paul Williams (10,000, 5,000), Nathan Vogel (800, relays), Tyson Brockel (200, relays) and Jonathan Gutierrez (800).
Last year, the men placed fourth out of 10 schools at the conference championships in early May. Led by this year?s seniors, Tabor will work toward a top-three finish, Kroeker said.
The women, meanwhile, finished seventh among 10 schools. Kroeker said he would like to see the team finish in the top half of the conference.
Kroeker anticipates Friends to be competitive at the top of the conference for both the men and women.
?Friends won indoor and outdoor,? he said. ?They have a big team. They have numbers, and that?s the key to a team win: numbers of kids getting sixth, seventh, eighth places.
?That?s where we?ll struggle. I think we?ll be competitive with it at the top, but not so competitive, on the men?s side for sure, down the list because we just don?t have numbers.?
At the Southwestern College Invitational March 12, the women placed 14th among 17 teams, while the men finished 12th among 19.
Tabor will compete at Hutchinson Com?munity College Thursday, where events are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. The Bluejays will travel to Wichita State University April 10.