By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
As published in the Hillsdale Daily News on Feb. 27, 2009
The slogan for Hillsdale Chargers track and field in 2009 is “Return to Dominance” and there is no time quite like the present to try and make that company line a reality.
Starting today the Chargers are competing at the GLIAC Indoor Track and Field Championships at Saginaw Valley State, trying to improve on last season’s third and fourth place team finishes for the men and women.
Despite being ranked considerably higher in the national rankings on both sides at this point compared to last year, a new wave of incredibly talented athletes have joined the conference the past 24 months, making it increasingly tough to accomplish a podium finish in a meet like this.
The men’s team is ranked 21st in the USTFCCCA dual meet rankings, nine spots better than a year ago and the women are up to 11th, after being ranked 21st at the end of February, 2008.
The competition has matched them blow-for-blow though.
The men’s team from Ashland, Grand Valley, and Tiffin are all ranked in the top 10 and Ashland is only mere points from being the top ranked team in the country.”
The Charger women have second and third ranked Grand Valley and Ashland to contend with on their side.
Nonetheless, Chargers head coach Bill Lundberg is setting his sights at the top of the horizon this weekend.
“I would say we have some of the finest coaches in the nation here and they really do all they can to make sure the athletes have everything they need to become phenomenal scholar-athletes,” he said. “Getting back to where our program has been at points, including the late 80s, doesn’t just happen in a year. It takes a little bit of going up against the Grand Valley’s and Ashland’s to achieve that, but we’re getting there. Sometimes we just like to say we’re a David within the group of Goliaths.
The Chargers currently have one automatic qualifier to the D-II NCAA national championships in two weeks, 35-pound weight thrower Aaron Falk, and there are nine other events that Hillsdale College athletes have met provisional qualifying marks to this point.
Here is a brief look at some of the biggest stars who will play huge rule in guiding their squads toward the top at SVSU this weekend:
The Charger men are highlighted by a trio of upperclassmen who seem to have no ceiling when it comes to setting new personal bests, including a pair of 2008 All-Americans.
Junior Jared Krout was fourth in the nation in the 200m dash and fifth nationally in the 400m dash in 2008 and the team will count on big things from him in those events as well as the long jump.
His success speaks for itself but he will be the first to admit the competition continues to make staying on top harder and harder.
Heading into the conference meet he has just the fifth fastest 400m time (49.47) in the GLIAC and sixth best 200m mark at 22.34. Last season he won the 400m with a 49.25 and the 200m in a school-record 21.88 seconds. He also won the long jump at GLIACs with a jump of 23′ 1 3/4 “.
He said his peers are better than ever, but he’s up to the challenge.
“Some of the young guys in this conference, especially some freshmen sprinters have really made us all work a little harder and push ourselves a little more,” he said. “But I’ve learned that you just have to trust what you’ve been doing all year and know it’s going to happen for you. Even last year I didn’t run as fast as I wanted all year long and then the conference meet rolled around and things worked out.”
He will be the most watched Charger male in track events, but senior Andrew Dodson and junior Aaron Falk will hope to more than carry their weight in some of the field events.
Dodson was sixth in the nation in the high jump in 2008, good for All-American status and this year he has the third highest jump in the GLIAC at 2.08m, just .03m from the top.
“It’s probably one of the best fields ever this year for the high jump. The top three guys in the conference will all be competitive at nationals.” he said. “We’ve all won at one time or another going head-to-head this season and the measure of separation is very little.”
He said he always tries to focus on what he’s doing, not his opponents, because if you’re not peaking right now then it’s not going to matter what the competition is doing anyway.
He said he’s striving to finish his career with another All-American performance, noting he’s “closer to a national championship than even he thinks sometimes”.
Another Charger who is ready to claim All-American status of his own is Falk, who has already qualified for nationals in the 35-pound weight.
His road to success has been an unlikely one, a road that didn’t even include competing in track and field as a high schooler.
He came to college with hopes of walking on to the football team, but the Charger track and field coaches showed immediate interest and now he heads to GLIACs as the fourth ranked thrower in the conference.
He said he didn’t have any bad habits to break like some freshman do, because he was “an empty slate” and he gives all of the credit for his success to coach Jeff Forino.
“Coach Forino just took me as I was and molded me. He has had a huge influence on everything I’ve done since the day I joined the team,” he said. “Coach Forino has been focusing on the technical and physical aspects for months and he has really trained us how to be right on mentally later in the year.”
Falk said being a member of the Charger team has “been a huge blessing in his life” and and the opportunity has opened up so many new avenues for him.
“All I know is they threw away the mold when they made Aaron Falk,” coach Lundberg said.
Aside from the impressive trio of prospective national qualifiers, a pair of freshmen could make a splash this weekend.
Waldron graduate Tim Jagielski is ranked seventh in the GLIAC in the mile (4:16.68) and 12th in the two-mile (8:46.99) going in and first-year triple jumper Derek Top is third in his event with a mark of 13.58m.
The Charger women are in the midst of a youth movement of sorts, with two freshmen and two sophomores already having met provisional qualifying marks for nationals.
Maybe the most promising of those, based on numbers alone, is sophomore Marta Scheiwe. In 2008 she finished second in the conference meet in the 200m (25.11) and the 400m (57.37) and is ranked in the top 20 nationally in both events this year.
She is second in the 200m (25.29) and tops in the 400m (57.16) and she said consistency is one of the biggest keys in being a top track and field athlete.
“I think one of the biggest things for us is just being consistent and working hard all the time. Because our season is so long — we’re training all fall even though the season doesn’t start — and then you have indoor season and outdoor season, you have to be dedicated the whole time.”
She said she also constantly reminds herself that the main reason she competes is because she truly enjoys it and the final results are only part of the equation.
Scheiwe has also provisionally qualified for nationals in the 60m dash with a time of 7.77 seconds.
Freshman Amanda Putt is third in the mile (5:01.19) heading in to this weekend’s meet and fellow first-year athlete Kathy Dirksen is ninth in the shot put (12.75m).
Sophomores Kelsey Schuler and Erin Brunko also have hopes of podium finishes and all-conference status.
Schuler has the top triple jump mark in the conference at 10.74m and Brunko is fifth best in the 3000m (10:27.91).
Junior Kathryn Hunt will try and add onto an already stellar career in the women’s long jump, where she is currently ranked third in the GLIAC, with a jump of 5.49m.
Senior Sarah Kauk is the fourth best in women’s pole vault to date and is just .07 behind the third best mark in the conference.
Scheiwe said the team has goals they expect to meet over the next two days.
“One of them is to win the indoor conference championships,” she said. “We also make sure we support each other on and off the track and no matter what happens we always want give 100 percent 24/7.
Lundberg said he is constantly amazed at the dedication and drive of his athletes and he thinks it is going to pay off in a tangible way, especially if everyone can help pile up some points.
“To compete and become a champion in this conference…it’s hard. You need depth and you need talent within that depth to compete.”