Finishing just one position higher on both sides at the Northwest Conference Championships may not seem like a big move, but what head coach Travis Olson saw at the meet and throughout the season is that Linfield is on the up-and-up in track and field.
Left with a bad taste in his mouth after a disappointing showing in 2013, Olson challenged his team to do better and took a fresh approach to training and motivation in 2014. The changes resulted in the Wildcats finishing fourth in the women’s team standings and seventh on the men’s side, crowning four individual conference champions, setting or improving upon 17 Linfield Top 10 marks and sending three competitors to the national championships.
“Overall the team atmosphere was really good – a lot of positive energy across the board.” Olson said. “Everybody really bought in to what we were doing and worked hard, and it paid off.”
Freshman hurdler, sprinter and heptathlete Dallas Edge made a huge splash in her first season, registering Linfield Top 10 marks in four events, including a school record in the 100-meter hurdles and the ninth highest point total of all time in the heptathlon. Including an individual title in the hurdles, third place finish in the open 100 and participation on both relay teams, the rookie accounted for a whopping 34 points at the NWC Championships.
“That tells you how important just a couple of people can be to your program and she’s one of those is only going to get better,” Olson said. “She’s going to be huge not only from a standpoint of points for our program, but she’s bringing people along with her. She’s a great example. She loves to compete, and that’s infectious.”
Ellie Schmidt had a breakout year in the sprints, finishing as the conference runner-up in the 200 meters and recording Linfield Top 10 marks in both the 100 and 200. The scary thing is, there still remains room for improvement with some tweaks to her technique.
Linfield’s veteran distance crew was rock solid. Katie Skinner was a top-eight finisher in both the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 5K, Madison Trowbridge and Audrey Lichten combined for nine points in the middle distances and Hannah Greider and Siena Noe capped off their careers with top-five performances in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.
“After what they did last year in not doing as well as they probably were supposed to do on paper came back this year and did above and beyond what they were supposed to do,” Olson said of Greider and Noe. “It was awesome for them to leave as seniors at their peak.”
After nearly not turning out for her final season of track, Anna LaBeaume became a five-time conference champion, winning the shot put on her final toss, and also took third in the hammer. Kate Shear enjoyed her healthiest season since her freshman year, placing third in the javelin and qualifying for nationals, where she finished 11th with a throw just a few feet off her school record.
Despite not scoring any points at the conference championships, Courtney Alley, Brenna Stinson and Amanda Gibbon all factored into Linfield’s success. Alley provided great leadership as one of the senior captains, Stinson made great strides and is poised for a breakout junior year while Gibbon cracked the Linfield Top 10 in the pole vault.
On the men’s side, freshmen Jake Mihelich and Kennedy Johnson gave Linfield its first male conference champions in four years, and Morgunn Ewing parlayed a strong finish to the year into a national championship appearance in the javelin.
At the Northwest Conference Championships, Mihelich won the 400 meters by a full second and Johnson topped the field in the triple jump. Both moved into the Linfield Top 10 and were on the cusp of headed to nationals.
One of the greatest stories of the year belonged to Hunter Sams, who picked up the javelin for the first time in the fall, and by the end of spring was a point scorer at the league meet.
Joe Gladow finished his career strong, finishing in the top eighth in both distance events, and Chad Linnerooth was a pleasant surprise with a third-place finish in the 1,500 meters.
Linfield graduates a fair number of point scorers, but with another influx of talented freshmen, the Wildcats will be deeper and capable of moving even further up the Northwest Conference ladder.
“I have good vibes about what’s happening right now,” Olson said. “People left with a great experience this year and a lot of people are excited about next year already.”