Sending four high-caliber competitors to nationals and coming away with two all-America citations constituted an exciting end to Linfield’s track and field season.
Jake Mihelich won a national title in the 400 meters and was also an all-American in the 200, while Kate Shear broke into the Top 8 of the women’s javelin in her third and final opportunity at the national meet. Morgunn Ewing narrowly missed out on a repeat all-America performance in the men’s javelin and Dallas Edge, who suffered an injury just days after becoming an indoor all-American, valiantly came back to make her second trip to the outdoor championships in as many years.
To make greater gains in the Northwest Conference, the Wildcats need more of those performances.
“The people who went to nationals went there because they worked their tail off,” said head coach Travis Olson. “If we can get more people on our team to follow them, we’re going to see a lot more improvements.”
Overall, the Wildcats accounted for 13 Linfield Top 10 marks, including a school record in the women’s javelin. But the team combined for just 11 top three-performances, including relays, at the NWC Championships. For a second straight year, the women and men placed fourth and seventh, respectively, in the team standings.
“On paper it looks like we’re a ways away on the guy’s side. But it just takes a few pieces to turn that around pretty quick,” Olson said. “On the women’s side, we’re not losing a ton but gaining a lot in terms of recruiting. Even though I have a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth in terms of place [at conference] this year, I still feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”
If Linfield’s recent trend continues, the team is bound for another influx of talent. This year’s freshmen and sophomores accounted for a little over half of the team’s scoring performances at the NWC Championships, including six of its eight top-three individual efforts.
Kaelia Neal (1,500) and Emma Knudson (10K) supplied fourth-place efforts to pace the women’s distance crew. Madison Gladding was a point scorer in both hurdle events, and improved upon her 100H time by nearly a second and her 400H personal best by more than two seconds.
Jade Everage was another bright spot in the sprints. Despite getting a late start to the year as she finished out the basketball season, the freshman played a key role on the 4x100 relay and also made the final in the open 100. Edge was runner-up in the 100-meter hurdles, failing to defend her conference title, but made a repeat trip to the national championships.
“It was a rough year, no doubt. The accomplishment for her is just making it to nationals after what she went through, not being able to run for 3-4 weeks,” Olson said. “I thought her speed was fine going into nationals, she just didn’t have enough races under her belt. That’s why we saw the inconsistent times. But now, she’s more motivated than ever.”
Olivia Bannerot proved to be another wildly important addition. On top of placing second in the heptathlon, she also competed in the high jump, long jump, javelin and both relays at the NWC Championships.
“She was busy,” Olson said. “She’s already scattered on the Top 10 list so I’m excited to see what she can do in the coming years. I think she can make a run at nationals.”
Not to be forgotten were the performances of seniors Shear and Ellie Schmidt. Finally enjoying a healthy season, Shear broke her four-year-old school record in the javelin, was runner-up at the NWC Championships and placed seventh nationally. Schmidt, competing on a torn knee ligament, registered the fourth-best 100 time in program history, was a top-three finisher in both sprints and raced on both relays.
On the men’s side, Mihelich provided a plethora of highlights on the track, including Linfield’s first national championship performance since 2012. He recorded the second fastest 400-meter time in program history and both NWC and NCAA titles in his signature event. The converted mid-distance runner also surprised a bit in the 200 meters, recording another No. 2 mark in that distance while earning NWC runner-up status and a fifth-place, all-America finish at the NCAAs.
“Looks are a little bit deceiving with Jake. In the 200, he was third in conference as a freshman after never running the event previously, then dropped a full second off his time this season,” Olson said. “He improved so quickly in the 400, not only from high school to his freshman year but from a freshman to a sophomore. You just don’t see that kind of improvement unless there’s serious talent there.”
Ewing, meanwhile, placed fifth in the Northwest Conference – which sent seven competitors to nationals – and ninth at the NCAA Championships, just a place out of all-America consideration.
“He made some good technical improvements this year, it just didn’t show up in his distances,” Olson said of Ewing. “He’s got a lot left to put out there.”
Sophomores Dallas Fagen and Kennedy Johnson also supplied key contributions for the men’s squad. Fagen, a mid-year transfer, filled what had been four-year vacancy for Linfield in the pole vault, placing third at the NWC Championships. Johnson was runner-up in a competitive triple jump field, and moved up to No. 7 in the Linfield Top 10.
With just handful of points separating fourth through seventh place in the men’s standings this year, and the bulk of the squad returning, there is plenty of opportunity for Linfield to climb the ranks in the seasons ahead.