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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Echo
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Taylor’s women’s track and field start dominant year

Multiple women qualify for Nationals

While many Taylor students were spending January in classes, overseas or enjoying time at home, for the women’s track and field team, 2024 was just getting started. 

Over the past month and a half, the No. 13 Trojans have kept a busy schedule with five invitationals between Dec. 8 and Feb. 3, where many athletes qualified for the NAIA National Championships in late February in various events.

At the Butler Invitational in January, sophomore Noel Vanderwall, junior Audrey Brinkruff and senior Mollie Gamble qualified in the mile (VanderWall) and the 3,000 meters (Brinkruff, Gamble), and it was the home-field advantage at the Trojan Invite on Jan. 27, where Taylor collectively had their breakout performance of the year. 

Taking first in seven events, the top performances featured freshman Mai Zimmerman breaking the Taylor record in the pole vault along with the team of VanderWall, junior Abby Mays, senior Ashley Hall and senior Emily Johnson qualifying for Nationals in the distance medley.

Zimmerman, from Dripping Springs, Texas, was originally a long-distance runner in high school but transitioned to pole vaulting before college. Now, she’s leaping over her previous records in the chilly lands of Indiana.

Her record-breaking vault height of 3.32 meters came in a jump-off with fellow teammate and freshman, Janna Teusch. Both had failed to make it over the bar in their initial three jumps, so the two went into a jump-off where Zimmerman cleared the height in front of her mother, who was visiting from Texas that afternoon.

“I originally didn’t know it was the record, it was just my personal record, so I’m excited … and then later I was talking to Coach (Gerry Conway, pole vault coach) and I thought, ‘this height sounds familiar’ so I asked him and said, ‘surprise, actually it is the record.’ It was honestly an amazing feeling,” Zimmerman said.

Mays, meanwhile, has excelled in multiple events. Along with qualifying for the distance relay at the Indiana Wesleyan Midwest Classic, the junior qualified for the 1,000 meters with a run just two seconds off of the program record as well as the 4x800 meter relay with Johnson, sophomore Kaitlin Burden and senior Olivia Jeanette. Mays has also provisionally qualified for Nationals in the 800 meters.

Mays is in her first year running track at Taylor after transferring from Huntington University and is overjoyed that she’s back in her element.

“I think this year especially, I’ve been able to see racing as the gift that it is and trying to continue that mindset, not taking it for granted,” Mays said.

The one at the helm of this roster is head coach Derek Gay in his fourth year in the purple and gray. Gay is looking for his roster to have a great showing at Indoor Nationals this year as he balances overseeing athletes in different events. One of the keys to the team’s success is its support system. While he focuses mainly on working with sprinters, Gay constantly coordinates with his fellow coaches across each event.

“The way that I coach … it leads to more athlete-driven success,” Gay said. “I’m a little bit more (on the side of) directive and administrative, making sure my assistant coaches have what they need. I trust all my coaches to do their thing.”

The indoor season for the Trojans is coming to a close soon, but up first are their most important competitions of the year: the Crossroads League Championships on Feb. 16 and 17 and the NAIA National Championships starting Feb. 29.