Kayla Springer | Echo
The men's and women's track and field teams had an exciting and emotion-filled weekend in Johnson City, Tennessee, as both teams circled their way around the track and onto the NAIA National Championship podium.
The men fought their way to a 14th-place overall team finish, racking up more points than all but one Crossroads League team. The women posted their best showing at an indoor nationals meet in nearly a decade, outscoring all Crossroads League teams and ending in a tie for 20th place in overall team standings.
The team went in with high expectations, knowing that every event had a legitimate opportunity to go All-American. All-American status is awarded to the scoring or podium finishers at the national meet. In the end, 50 percent of the events did just that, totaling nine Trojans receiving All-American honors while posting some of the fastest times in Taylor history.
For the men, the All-American finishers included senior Matt Hall and junior Joe Beamish. Hall became a seven-time All-American at the meet, breaking his own school record in the 5,000-meter run with a time of 14:49.87 and earning himself a third-place finish in the event. Beamish also ran a great race in his own right, coming away with a new personal record of 8:39.63 in the 3,000-meter finals and an eighth place finish in the event.
The veteran runners were joined in All-American honors by two freshmen in Caleb Anthony and Jonathan DeHaan. Anthony capped off his impressive indoor debut with a tie for second place in the finals of the 60-meter hurdles, falling short only to the event's defending national champion. DeHaan secured seventh place in the pole vault with a 4.72 clearance and a career-best mark.
"I'm very thankful for all the guys on the team," Hall said. "My prayer is that they can continue this trajectory over the years by setting an example for the program and inspiring skilled recruits to come to Taylor. It's a never-ending process of handing off the baton to the next group of guys who will strengthen the program and glorify God in the process."
All-American finishers on the women's side included a pentad of underclassman in the long jump and the 4x800-meter relay. Sophomore Plenseh-Tay Sakeuh entered the meet as the sixth seed, but secured a well-deserved third-place finish after soaring to a 5.83 meter jump-0.13 meters better than her previous career best indoor mark. Sakeuh also competed in the 60-meter hurdles, finishing 11th overall with a time of 9.00 seconds.
Accompanying Sakeuh and rounding out the rest of the All-American finishers were the four members of the women's 4x800 relay team. After a record-breaking time of 9:19.94 in the semifinals, sophomores Rachel Blagg, Margie Crosby, Anna Souzis and freshman Naomi Noyes had yet another strong performance on finals day. Their 9:23.28 finals time was enough to earn them fifth place overall and All-American honors.
"That moment when we realized we were advancing at Nationals and going to finals and that we had gotten All-American, we were so excited," Crosby said. "Last year we didn't qualify, and we all left kind of bummed, but this year it was just blessing on blessing on blessing."
In addition to a great team race in the 4x800-meter relay, Crosby found her niche this year in the 600-meter race. The sophomore flew through the semi-finals with a school record-breaking time of 1:34.54, the second-fastest time ran in the semi-finals. Despite having five races on her plate at the national competition, Crosby went on to break the 600-meter school record with a time of 1:36.47. This earned her a fourth-place finish and her second All-American honor of the meet.
According to Crosby, the team has a quote: "Running is like a bank that takes deposits of hard work, effort and doing the little things, but race day is payday." This year, payday came in the form of the national meet.
This payday continued the upward slope of the Taylor track and field program over the last few years, as the team is slowly solidifying their presence as national-level competitors-specifically in the 4x800-meter relay and distance medley relay (DMR). As more and more Trojans find their way to the national podium, women's assistant coach Quinn White sees nothing but good in the future for this program.
"I believe that it's good for the program and it's good for the future, too," White said. "Hopefully as we continue to go back, we know we've been on this stage before, and we've been on the podium. These are our expectations now. Sometimes it's hard to get up there, but once you break through that barrier then you know you can do it."
Breaking through that barrier was not accomplished by any extreme changes in training regimens, but in similar ways as it always had been: through a mix of quick days to develop true speed, speed endurance days and easier days to stay healthy. White focuses on trying to find a good balance of being healthy and pushing their strength to new limits, ensuring that the team trains lightly on their easy days and intensely on their hard days.
According to White, this team did something special and should not be taken for granted. It was a meet full of excitement and thankfulness, and the program hopes to build on its results in the outdoor season and the years to come.
Both the men's and women's track and field teams will kick off the outdoor season on March 25 at the Tennessee Invite in Knoxville, Tennessee.
"Photograph provided by Quinn White"