Both men’s and women’s track and field teams won the MIAC indoor championships Saturday, continuing a 27-year championship streak for the men and a 12-year streak for the women.
The men’s team started off the final day of competition with an eight-point lead over second-place Hamline’s 88 points.
“We knew it was going to come down to Hamline and St. Thomas, and we just always focus on the little things that make the difference,” men’s coach Steve Mathre said. “When you take care of the little things, big things can happen.”
The Tommies started off the morning with a great showing from sophomores Eyo Ekpo and Patrick Ecklund in the high jump. Ekpo took second place with a height of 6-6 and 3/4, just 1/4 inch behind Bethel University’s Jay Quick. Ecklund finished fourth.
“The team needed points from everyone,” Ekpo said. “Pat Ecklund was seeded fourth, and we did what we had to do, and I guess I have to be satisfied with second.”
Ekpo took second place in his next event, the long jump, and teammate freshman Sam Kovar placed fourth overall.
“I owe it all to the coaches really telling me what to do,” Ekpo said. “To be honest, it’s hard sometimes. It seems easy, but long jump is so much more technical then it sounds, and I am just getting the hang of it.”
The men’s team continued to lead the meet with strong finishes in the 800-meter relay and 600-meter dash. Junior Mike Hutton won the 600-meter dash with an overall time of 1:12.53. Later, Hutton surged his way past Hamline senior Tyson Molitor to clinch the final victory for the Tommies in the 4 by 400-meter relay.
“I guess I was a little nervous, but that’s what track’s all about. You come out to have a meet just like this. It’s not as fun to be ahead by 100 points or back 30 points,” Hutton said. “It’s why you do track – to get these jitters and get out there.”
Along with top running performances by the Tommies, junior Devin Dirth and freshman Bryan Thell competed in the men’s shot put event. Dirth took third.
“Those guys that were projected to be out of the scoring that came into the scoring, or lower in the score to upper side of the scoring, just made the difference,” Mathre said. “Obviously you got those big-time kids who can get first or second, but we really needed those guys from down to come up into the big seeds, and they did just that.”
Holding the lead for the final 10 events of the three-day competition, the Tommies won the meet with 166 points. St. Thomas beat second-place Hamline by eight points, the second closest team finish in MIAC history.
The women’s team had a much closer score than the men coming into the final day of the competition. St. Thomas started the day two points ahead of second place St. Benedict’s with a score of 75 to 73.
“As a coach you wonder, are they going to be able to do it, but the strong push we got from our seniors just really pulled us through with the big performances when they counted,” women’s coach Joe Sweeney said.
The Tommies’ first event of the day, the triple jump, set the stage for the following events thanks to a win by freshman Emily Van Heel.
“You always wonder if it’s going to happen, and it did right away today with the triple jump,” Sweeney said.
Van Heel, a sprinter and jumper for the Tommies, beat top-ranked Tatijana MullerDahlberg from Concordia-Moorhead with a jump of 37-5.
“It was very exciting. The first round I just kind of did my thing and the outcome was great, so I was pumped about it,” Van Heel said. “Then I saw her go. I was like, ‘OK, we’re both in this.’ So I gave it my all and hoped for the best, and it worked.”
Van Heel took first place in five of her seven events, winning the triple jump, 4 by 400-meter relay, 55-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter dashes.
“I just take it one race at a time,” Van Heel said. “That’s just the best way to do it.”
Van Heel finished off her day battling through the final lap of the women’s 4 by 400-meter relay pushing past St. Kate’s to lock in the victory for the Tommies.
Along with Van Heel’s top finishes, the women’s team did well in other events. Junior Amy Maas, along with four other St. Thomas women, freshmen Haley Zajac and Hannah Volkman and seniors Felisha Willaert and Sarah Lemke, competed in the event. Maas secured a third-place victory.
“A total team effort. We really got a lot of points from all over the place,” Sweeney said. “Quality points from Emily Van Heel, and we got a first from Melissa Kuebler in the hurdles. Just a lot of deep points. I felt this team did that better then any team I have had.”
The women’s team secured the MIAC indoor championship title with a total score of 146 points. St. Thomas scored 39 more points than second place St. Benedict’s and 58 points more than tied third-place teams Gustavus and Hamline.
“Just like taking a race at a time, I am just going to take it a year at a time,” Van Heel said. “I am just going to do my best next year and hope for the best.”
Dan Fastner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.