LYNCHBURG, VA - The Men's and Women's Indoor Track and Field teams traveled across the country with some big goals in mind. Last year the men's team were crowned national champions for the sixth times in nine years while the women finished fifth. This year the men entered the meet with a first place ranking while the women were ranked third. After two grueling days of competition at Liberty University the men walked away with back to back indoor NJCAA national titles, their seventh in the last ten years. The Tritons outdistanced Barton County by a score of 118 points to 99.5, while South Plains finished in third with 72.5 points, just a half point ahead of New Mexico JC at 72 points. The women outperformed their third place ranking to finish as national runners up. In the past 11 years, the women's program has placed among the top three teams a total of ten times. New Mexico JC led the women's race with 160 points followed by the Tritons at 115 points. South Plains and Barton finished in third and fourth with 98 and 95 points respectively.
The men's team had a balanced attack by scoring in 16 of the 20 events. In the very first running event of the day on Friday, the Tritons set the tone. The men's Distance Medley Relay team of Noah Friske (1200m), David Dunlap (400m), Pur Biel (800m) and Awet Yohannes (1600m) finished first in a time of 10:10.39, less than a half second ahead of second-place Vincennes. Dunlap and Yohannes were both a part of the 2018 relay that were also crowned national champions.
USTFCCCA Midwest Region Male Track Athlete of the Year, freshman, Kelvin Bungei led the way with four top-5 finishes and 23 total team points. Bungei placed third in the 5,000-meter run, fourth in the 3,000-meter run, fifth in the 1 mile and national runner up at 1000 meters. The latter proved the be the highest scoring event for the Tritons with 14 points. Bungei's 8-points combined with teammate, Pur Biel's third place finish earned 6 more team points. Iowa Central earned 12 team points in both the 3,000-meter run and the 200-meter run. In the 3000-meter race, Bungei led the way with a 4-5-6 finish by the Tritons which saw sophomore Milos Pendic and Yohannes right behind him. Pendic clocked a best time of 8:25.94, ninth in school history. The same trio of Tritons also scored at the 1-mile run with a 4-5-7 finish, this time led by Yohannes, then Bungei, followed by Pendic. Yohannes ran a personal best of 4:09.34, third best all-time at Iowa Central.
Sophomore sprint sensation, Courtney Lindsey of Rock Island, IL was the second highest point-scorer for the Tritons. Lindsey posted 16.75 total team points with two runner-up finishes and a scoring relay. Lindsey and freshman Elijha Johnson finished second and eighth in the 60 meters while in the 200 meters, Lindsey teamed up with Dunlap to finish second and fifth scoring 12 team points. Lindsey posted a time of 20.77 to set a new Iowa Central indoor school record in the 200 meters. Dunlap's time of 21.10 is third fastest in school history. Johnson, who finished eighth in the preliminary round with a time of 21.33 was unable to run in finals due to an injury sustained in the 60-meter finals. However, his 200-meter time was sixth best in school history. Lindsey was also the anchor leg of the sixth place 4x400 meter relay team. Lee Eppie, Dunlap, RJ Williams and Lindsey finished in a time of 3:15.07, the eighth fastest time in school history.
Lindsey finished his Triton career with three indoor school records: 60 meters (6.64), 200 meters (20.77) and as a member of the 4x400 meter relay last year (3:11.32). He also owns three outdoor school records: 100 meters (10.11), 200 meters (20.21) and as a member of the 4x100 meter relay (39.41).
In the field events sophomores Jadon Watson and Ronniel Johnson put on a show in the high jump competition. In the end, Watson tied for third place at 2.15 meters (7-0.5") based on total misses while Johnson tied for fifth while successfully clearing 2.05 meters. Watson's leap was a new personal best and fifth all-time at Iowa Central. He is only the sixth athlete in school history to ever clear the coveted seven-foot mark. Johnson's performance was significant because he was also a competitor in the heptathlon. Prior to the open high jump competition, Johnson had already competed in four events (60 meters, long jump, shot put, and high jump). On day two of the national meet, Johnson finished the final three events of the heptathlon (60 hurdles, pole vault, and 1000 meters). Each performance in the seven events is assigned a point-scorer, the highest accumulated total points at the end of the competition is the winner. Johnson accumulated 4655 points to finish sixth overall in event he entered ranked 16th. His performance was sixth best in school history. In his best two events, the pole vault and high jump, he placed second overall among the 16 competitors.
The Triton throwers were competitive in both of their events. In the shot put, freshman Michael Williams-Davis led a 5-6-8 finish. Williams-Davis finished with a personal best throw of 16.11m (52-10.5), followed by sophomore, Elijah Barnes in sixth and Jacob Wedig in eighth. In the 35-pound weight throw, Williams-Davis had another personal best to lead the squad with another fifth-place finish with a mark of 16.23m (53-3). Wedig finished eighth while sophomore Nicholas Hudson was ninth.
Other top performances for the men's team included horizontal jumper, Harry Afaxoe of Ghana. Afaxoe finished third in the triple jump with a personal best mark of 14.96m (49-1), third all-time in school history. Afaxoe also finished ninth in the long jump (7.06m). Eppie of South Africa placed 5th in the 400 meters (47.70). The Tritons had two men in the finals of the 60-meter hurdles. The freshman duo of Qadiir Wajd and Jaheem Hayles finished seventh and eighth respectively. Wajd's preliminary time of 8.06 was a personal record seventh all-time at Iowa Central.
While the women didn't have the number of athletes the men's team had, two ladies really stood out. First and foremost, sophomore thrower, Lea Grady of Davenport, IA was crowned the Indoor National Champion in both the shot put and the weight throw to earn 20 team points. Grady was voted the USTFCCCA Midwest Region Female Field Athlete of the Year. In the shot put, Grady won with a throw of 15.76m (51-8.5", just 1 cm shy of her personal best. Freshman, teammate Ashley Micheaux set a personal best with a put of 13.38 meters (43-10.75), seventh best all-time in school history. The duo combined with sophomore, Tricee Beelen in the weight throw to score 19 total team points, the most in any event for the Tritons. Beelen finished sixth while Grady and Micheaux finished first and third respectively. Both set new personal records and moved up the all-time list in Iowa Central school history. While all three of Grady's final throws were good enough for the win, she saved her best for last on her sixth and final throw. Grady's mark of 19.52m (64-0.5) ranks her second all-time while Micheaux's toss of 16.72m (54-10.25) ranks seventh.
Sophomore, Florance Uwajeneza of St. Paul, MN also scored 20 points individually in three different events. On day one, Uwajeneza finished second in the 5km to earn NJCAA All-American honors in a time of 17:08.32. She led teammates Lilian Busienei (17:25.85) and Rosalie Fish (18:06.03) to personal record times while placing fourth and sixth respectively. Busienei's mark was sixth best in school history. Later in the evening Uwajeneza finished third in the 3km event. Teammate, Eleonora Curtabbi was the national runner up and earned NJCAA All-American in a time of 10:09.52 while Busienei was sixth. Curtabbi was voted the USTFCCCA Midwest Region Female Track Athlete of the Year prior to the competition. On day two, the same trio of ladies finished 3-4-7 in the 1-mile run. Uwajeneza led the way with a personal best time of 5:02.77, fourth fastest in school history. She was followed by Curtabbi in 5:08.55 and then Busienei in 5:11.52, which was also her personal best.
The women's team had two additional NJCAA All-American performances. The first came in the initial track event of the meet, the women's distance medley relay. Lilia Alvarez (1200m), Tatyana McKenzie (400m), Jade Ford (800m) and Curtabbi (1600m) finished in a comfortable second place with a time of 12:16.00, the fourth fastest time in school history. Freshman Hannah Connell was the final Triton to finish as national runner-up in the 60-meter hurdles to earn NJCAA All-American. Connell ran a time of 8.52 seconds in finals and then in the very next event finished eighth overall in the 60-meter dash with a fatigued time of 7.64 after running 7.52 in the preliminary round. Her preliminary time was the fifth fastest in school history. Connell teamed up with McKenzie, Odell Frye and Abigail Brooks to finish fourth in the 4x400 meter relay with a time of 3:50.79.
Other notable performances on included the 4x800 meter relay team of Ford, MacKenzie Gaherty, Alvarez and Fish. The quartet finished fourth overall in a time of 9:37.81, seventh best in school history. Fish also finished seventh place in the 1000m later in the afternoon. Her preliminary time of 3:02.05 was a personal best. Freshman, Madison Johnson placed fourth in the high jump competition with a mark of 1.66 meters. In the five-event women's pentathlon, sophomore Monise Barronette finished seventh while freshman, Kiya Wulf placed eighth. Barronette's highest placing event was the fifth and final event, the 800 meters in which she placed third in a time of 2:41.28 to tally 558 points. Wulf finished fifth overall in the shot put with a mark of 8.60m to score 438 points.
First year head coach, Jordan Burkholder was named the USTFCCCA National Men's Track and Field Head Coach of the Year as voted on by his peers. He was also the USTFCCCA Midwest Region Men's and Women's Track and Field Head Coach of the Year this season.