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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Echo

Women’s track and field set stride to NAIA National Championships

Taylor is ranked No. 8, qualifies in nine events

The women’s track and field team, ranked No. 8 in the NAIA, brought home nine qualifying events after the Crossroads League Championships on Feb. 16 and 17. 

The Trojans finished the CL Championships in second place with 140 points. 

Mollie Gamble, a senior distance runner, claimed the league championship and qualified for nationals in the 5,000-meter along with junior Audrey Brinkruff, who claimed second. 

“(Audrey) and I crossed the line side-by-side, and my thought was ‘Did we tie?’” Gamble said. “I didn’t know who was (first or second), but either way, I was excited for both of us.”

Both runners broke Taylor’s previous record of 17:22 by four seconds with a photo finish. Gamble ultimately took over the record-holding title from Anna VanderWall, with a time of 17:18. 

Gamble and Brinkruff are now placed fourth and fifth in the NAIA this season for the 5,000-meter. Both runners additionally qualified for the 3,000-meter, with Brinkruff also qualifying in the mile. 

Another standout contributor for the Trojans is senior Patience Sakeuh, who claimed the championship title in the 60-meter-hurdles with a time of 8.87. 

She also placed fifth in the 60-meter and the long jump, following sophomore Kiana Siefert, who took fourth. 

The Sakeuh name is a Taylor track and field legacy. 

Sakeuh follows in the footsteps of her siblings Matthew, Plenseh-Tay and Princess who formerly ran for Taylor. 

Her sister Plenseh-Tay holds the Taylor records for 60-meter-hurdles at 8.62 seconds and the long jump at a distance of 19 '1.5". 

The Trojans had two relays qualify for nationals, the distance-medley relay (DMR) and the 3,200-meter relay, both earning A-Standard at the CL Championship. 

The 3,200-meter team consists of seniors Emily Johnson and Olivia Jeanette, junior Abby Mays and sophomore Kaitlin Burden. 

Mays and Johnson were also on the qualifying DMR relay along with senior Ashley Hall and sophomore Noel VanderWall. Hall also qualified in the 400-meter. 

Mays kept busy, qualifying for nationals in the 800-meter and 1,000-meter.

“(Mays) transferred last year, had to sit out, and now is just tearing it up on the track,” head coach Derek Gay said.

VanderWall also added to her qualifications with the 3,000-meter and the mile. 

Senior Ahna Neideck is headed to nationals for her third-place finish in the 3,000-meter with a time of 10:02:45. 

“(We) have some very solid ladies going into the meet (who) are hopefully going in feeling confident, healthy and just ready to run. So, I think we've got a lot of potential to do something very cool,” Gay said.  

The Trojans coaching staff also deserves recognition for the tradition of success they’ve brought to Taylor track and field.

Gay is in his fourth year as head coach of the Trojans with 67 NAIA indoor and outdoor national championship appearances, 30 NAIA All-Americans and one NAIA National Championship relay.

Assistant coach Quinn White, in his 14th season with the Trojans, claimed the indoor U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Great Lakes Region Women’s Assistant Coach of the Year Award.

Gamble said she has learned a lot from Coach White in her four years at Taylor. He has fostered a supportive team dynamic and reminds the runners that they are running for God before anyone or anything else. 

She also shared that the team has a nickname for White, “The Iron Marshmallow”. 

“On the outside, there are times when he can be really tough, and he just wants the best for you,” she said. “But he’s also incredibly soft. He just loves everyone with all of his heart, and it’s a good balance (of) tough love.”