From the takeover of a 16-year-old school record to a pair of unsatisfying team finishes at the Northwest Conference Championships, Linfield track and field fans experienced it all in 2013, weathering the highs and lows that naturally define such a performance-driven sport.
While the team results were certainly not what Travis Olson had hoped, or even predicted, for his third season as head coach, eight Linfield Top-10 efforts and a NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships participant provided some significant individual highlights for the Wildcats.
On the women’s side, Linfield got six top-three efforts out of 14 overall top-eight finishes at the NWC Championships, but had to settle for sixth after leaving a fair amount of points on the table.
Anna LaBeaume successfully defended her conference title in the hammer throw, placed second in the discus and was third in the shot put. She broke the program record in the hammer by mid-season, and topped her own all-time best effort with the winning throw at the NWC Championships. The junior also qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, keeping alive a 15-year streak for the Wildcats in which at least one female has competed at the national meet.
Melany Crocker and Halsie Peek provided a solid 1-2 punch in the sprints. In addition to helping Linfield place third and sixth in the 4x100 and 4x400, respectively, the two combined to score 25 points in their individual events for the Wildcats at the NWC Championships.
Rachael Gernhart (triple jump), Jill Boroughs (3,000-meter steeplechase), Courtney Alley (hammer), Siena Noe (10K) and Hannah Greider (5K, 10K) all broke into or improved upon marks already included in the Linfield Top 10.
For the men, a quartet of Wildcats – Lester Maxwell, Charlie Poppen, Nick Fairhart and Drew Wert – delivered in the individual events at the NWC Championships. Maxwell recorded his third consecutive top-three finish in the 800 meters, Poppen placed sixth in the high jump, Fairhart took sixth in the hammer and Wert registered his second career top-eight finish in the shot put.
Fairhart overcame a mid-season injury and defied expectations – he was seeded 11th – to make the finals at the championship meet. Football standouts Fairhart, Poppen and Wert were just a few of several multi-sport Wildcats who contributed in track & field this year. Two others were soccer players Gernhart and Ellie Schmidt, who ran on both of Linfield’s relays.
“It’s nice to have a lot of dual-sport athletes out there because they bring a different attitude than someone that is just doing track,” Olson said. “A different competitiveness, a different attitude.”
Many factors influenced the outcome of the team results this year, but health was arguably the most noteworthy.
A “perfect storm” of injuries prevented the men’s team from realizing its potential at the conference meet. Relying on just four individual finalists plus two scoring relays, the Wildcats managed only 16 points en route to a last-place finish.
Linfield sorely missed decathlete, hurdler and sprinter Michael Madden, promising freshman sprinter Tom Steelhammer, talented rookie pole vaulter Felix DeVera and veteran sprinter Jason Cheyne, who was entered in the 100, 200 and both relays but suffered an injury just days prior to the championship meet.
“We had some key injures on the men’s side,” Olson said. “We didn’t have much depth to begin with, so it was difficult to fill those gaps.”
Undaunted in his quest to get the Wildcats to regularly contend for a conference championship, Olson has already begun working toward future success.
“I’ve re-evaluated everything in the program,” Olson said. “We have a solid training philosophy and training plan, but we still have to evaluate to see if we can get better.
“Next year is going to be a different year for us.”