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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Thursday, May 30, 2024
The Echo
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All-American Alert: Track & field shines at Indoor Nationals

Taylor athletes break four school records

Taylor showed up and showed out at the 2024 NAIA Indoor National Championships as track and field left South Dakota with 14 All-American honors. 

On the men’s side, pole vaulters sophomore Josh Forbes and senior Issac Brown finished top five in the nation. Forbes placed second overall with a jump of 5.00m while Brown took fourth with a jump of 4.95m. 

The women’s squad took the other twelve honors, four individually and two with relay teams. 

Junior Audrey Brinkruff and senior Mollie Gamble both advanced to finals in the 5000m, placing fourth and sixth, respectively. Sophomore Noel VanderWall finished with a school record time of 4:55.63 minutes for bronze in the mile. Senior Ahna Neideck took 8th in the 3000m with a time of 10:24.11.

In her final season, Neideck said it was special to have one last time to run at an indoor meet and be with her teammates. She said it was “incredible” to watch the finals and congratulate everyone.

“I am just so blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of another great Nationals experience and team in general,” she said. “Nationals was special, but the team as a whole is what makes that opportunity special.” 

She said it has been exciting to bond with her teammates through small groups and Monday meetings, pouring into each other in more than just running and event groups. 

In the distance-medley-relay (DMR) junior Abby Mays, senior Ashley Hall, senior Emily Johnson and Vanderwall finished third with a time of 11:58.81. The 4x800m relay team of senior Olivia Jeanette, Johnson, sophomore Kaitlin Burden and Mays took 6th overall. 

Along with Vanderwall’s school record in the mile, three other records were broken. Hall broke Taylor’s 400m record, setting the new bar at 57.55 seconds. The 4x800m and DMR women’s teams set new records as well.

Johnson said the whole team dynamic at the meet was unified, shown in the way they cheered for each other throughout the entire meet. 

“There were [teammates] that would stop in the middle of their warm-up and cheer for people,” she said.“I just thought that was awesome to see, there was a lot of selfless love that weekend.”

Johnson said that assistant coach Quinn White had been reaffirming the idea, that each individual knew they had the opportunity to do something big.

“We didn’t realize, if we all do something big, we’re all doing something massive,” she said. “And he brought us together at the end, all the ladies, and said ‘you guys just did something big. You guys just did something that Taylor history has never seen before. So, cheer for yourselves; be proud of yourselves.’”

Head coach Derek Gay said he was so proud of the way the team performed, he said they showed up when they needed to. 

“That’s what you want for your kids,” he said. “Not just at the National meet, but you always want them to run well at the meet that matters the most to them.”

After seeing how many athletes they could get through to finals, Gay said his focus was on how the coaches could support their athletes for their best-prepared strategic race and finishing well.  

Also entering in the Indoor Nationals meet, senior Jake Thompson competed in the long jump, placing 13th with his farthest jump of 6.98m. Overall, he said this indoor season has taught him about resilience, especially when approaching bigger meets with injuries. 

At Nationals, he said, with the injuries he’s had this season, he was happy to finish in the middle of the pack. In the outdoor season to come, Thompson said his focus is less on advancing. 

“I think the only thing I’m focused on is just having fun, honestly, with the last meets I’ll ever do,” he said. 

The Trojans already had three athletes qualify for Outdoor Nationals at different levels after their first outdoor meet (the Indiana Wesleyan Polar Bear Invitational), with B Standards earned by Nathan Burns in the 5k and Brinkruff in the 3000m Steeplechase. Neideck qualified with A Standard in the 3000m Steeplechase with a time of 10:56.16.

Their next meet will be April 19-20 starting at 4 p.m. and 11 a.m.. at Indiana Wesleyan’s Little State Championships.