The Baker University track and field team has been setting new records in nearly every meet this season, and it struck once again Thursday-Saturday at the NAIA National Outdoor Championships in Marion, Ind.
The Wildcats finished with four All-Americans, a national champion, a national runner-up and a 12th-place finish for the women’s team.
“Obviously it’s very exciting,” head coach Zach Kindler said. “It’s something that I had an idea that we could do this. For the ladies to just go out perform and do what they are capable of doing, obviously it was outstanding to see.”
The team started the meet off by seeing two ‘Cats standing on the platform on day one.
Sophomore Stephanie Nelson became Baker's first national champion since 1953 by winning the javelin. Nelson’s final attempt was the winning mark with a 45.57-meter throw.
Before her final attempt, Nelson said she thought these words to herself, “I had to do something to make something happen. This was my last opportunity to get where I wanted. I’ve come too far. I have to give it all I have.”
Kindler said watching Nelson’s final throw and waiting for the other athletes in the event was a nerve-racking experience.
“After she got done throwing that we had to wait for seven other throwers to go after her and see if they could beat that mark,” Kindler said. “After the last girl threw, who was the defending national champion, we saw that her mark was about 20 centimeters behind Stephanie’s national championship throw. That was probably the most nerve-racking thing, but once we saw the distance on the board that’s when we really started celebrating.”
Nelson said waiting for the other competitors to throw was nerve-racking for her as well.
“I was praying that they would mess up, but then again I want to do their best, but then again I wanted to win,” Nelson said.
Baker Orange staff member Katie Thurbon placed second overall in the pole vault with a mark of 3.70 meters.
“On day one, Stephanie and Katie were about five minutes apart from each other getting (national champion and runner-up), so it was a very exciting way to start our meet and it really just propelled the rest of the weekend,” Kindler said.
Nelson and Thurbon were joined as All-Americans by freshman Tyler Sloan in the 100-meter hurdles and junior Jeremy Gathright in the 400-meter dash.
Sloan had a seventh place finish in the women's 100-meter hurdles on day two. Her time of 14.06 seconds in the semifinals broke her own school record. Sloan also broke her own school record in the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles qualifying her for the final heat, where she finished ninth.
Gathright broke his own school record in the semifinals of the 400-meter dash with a time of 47.25 seconds, and placed eighth in the final to earn All-American honors. Gathright also placed ninth in the triple jump and competed in the long jump as well.
“I really wasn’t expecting to get All-American in the 400,” Gathright said. “If anything, I thought I was going to do it in the jumps. It was maybe unexpected that that’s what I got All-American in, but like I said it was just a blessing for me to be able to do that.”
Senior JL Anderson, and sophomores Megan Rosa and Katelyn Wolken also represented the Wildcats at the national meet.
Kindler said he optimistic about the future of the all athletes because Anderson will be the only national qualifier not returning.
“It definitely just capped off a terrific year for our track and field and cross country teams,” Kindler said. “Obviously it just gets me optimistic about the year to come.”