A positive team atmosphere and infectious confidence contributed to 42 individual scoring performances at the Northwest Conference Championships, 19 program top-10 marks – including a school record – and three national qualifiers for Linfield’s track and field program in 2017.
“We accomplished some pretty cool things individually and as a team. But I really felt most proud of how the team atmosphere was,” said seventh-year head coach Travis Olson. “Knowing how mental the sport is already, that positive, genuine support can be difference maker for some of our athletes in terms of what frame of mind they have getting in the blocks or on the runway. It’s bigger that people realize. And it gets to become infectious. When people start PR-ing, high-fiving, hugging – it really starts to affect the rest of the team and how they approach their events when it’s their time to shine.”
The Wildcat women, who finished third at the NWC Championships, enjoyed 18 top-10 performances in 14 of 21 events throughout the season.
Dallas Edge, Linfield’s Female Athlete of the Year and an indoor All-American, supplied 26 points in her individual events as well as a strong anchor performance in the short relay, which finished third. In addition to capturing a third conference crown in the 100-meter hurdles, she was runner-up in the 100 and 200, both in program top-four times. Fellow hurdlers Kycie Richwine (100H), Madison Gladding (400H) and rookie Baylie Cameron (400H) also provided valuable points toward Linfield’s total at the conference meet.
National qualifier Mehana Sabado-Halpern had a breakout season in the horizontal jumps and the heptathlon, scoring points in all three disciplines while breaking the program record in the triple jump.
The best is yet to come for fellow heptathlete Madeline Shirley, who was close to making nationals in the multi-events and registered two top-eight finishes at the NWC Championships.
“This season didn’t go quite as planned for her, but she’s a positive person and is always trying to do her best,” Olson said. “She was fifth in the heptathlon, sixth in the javelin with a huge PR and still has a lot of room to improve.”
Blessed with a trio of pole vaulters “who really performed well when it counted,” Linfield watched Olivia McDaniel, Joanna Galli and Julie Rockenbaugh all set massive PRs to give the Wildcats a formidable scoring contingent at the league meet. McDaniel, the conference champion, also qualified for her first NCAA Championship event.
All three of Linfield’s top distance runners – Kaelia Neal, Emma Knudson, and Courtney Beard – were dual-event scorers at the league meet. Neal made significant drops in the middle distances, particularly in the 1,500 meters, Knudson benefitted from a healthy season to achieve runner-up finishes in the brutal 5K/10K double and Beard overcame some chronic illnesses to post top-eight times in both distances.
Jordyn Brugler (javelin) and Kailey Wright (hammer) made steady improvements in the throws, while Makenzie Mize (discus, shot put) and Josie Knight (shot put) were the most promising newcomers, with big throws in their future as they work through some old habits.
Limited by depth but out-performing their on-paper expectations, the Linfield men finished fifth at the NWC Championships, garnering 16 individual top-eight performances.
Senior sprinter Jake Mihelich captured his fourth consecutive 400-meter title, added a runner-up finish in the 200 and anchored both of Linfield’s third-place relay teams.
“He had a rough year, to be honest,” Olson said. “He had an illness early on that affected his training, and didn’t have as successful of an indoor season as he would have liked. But he was still able to perform really well at the conference meet, and had gotten back to where he was before his injury last year.”
Jeff Lieder, who stepped up as Linfield’s vocal leader, contributed scoring efforts in both the shot put and discus, and is poised for a standout senior season after gaining more consistency during his junior campaign. Former baseball player Hayden Davisson proved he has come a long way from his days on the diamond, registering a top-three effort in the pole vault to cap off his Wildcat career.
Max Patterson stepped up big time in the 110-meter hurdles, while Taylor Vicknair registered top-eight performances in both hurdle races. Chris Roth capped off his senior season with a fourth-place effort in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Jeff Lee and Adrian Clifford also contributed points in the 10K.
Linfield loses some key pieces to graduation but should continue to contend for upper-tier finishes in the Northwest Conference, especially on the women’s side, for some time.