Head coach Travis Olson is no playwright, but the Wildcats certainly followed script during the 2016 season.
Bolstered by some incredibly versatile performers, Linfield’s men and women fully maximized their potential, each placing third at the Northwest Conference Championships and sending five on to the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
“We had athletes who did what they were supposed to do,” Olson said. “On paper, that’s pretty much how we should have finished. As a coach, you always hope your athletes rise above and do better, but Whitworth and George Fox were quite a ways ahead of us in depth. So it was hard to crack that top or runner-up spot.”
Jake Mihelich and JC Grim were two key elements of the Wildcats’ success on the men’s side, combining for 60 of the team’s 105.5 total points.
Capturing both the 200- and 400-meter individual titles and anchoring runner-up relays en route to NWC Men’s Track Athlete of the Meet honors, Mihelich opened the year as an indoor national champion, wrapped up West Region Men’s Track Athlete of the Year honors and only got faster as the season wore on. Unfortunately, an injury sustained during the preliminary heat of the 200 dashed his hopes of defending his 400-meter title and garnering even more all-America honors at the outdoor national meet.
“He’s very well deserving of all of those awards,” Olson said, “but I think he would trade them all in for another national championship.”
Grim, meanwhile achieved all-America status in the decathlon in his debut season as a multi-event performer. In addition to finishing as runner-up at the NWC Championships, he also contributed toward Linfield’s team cause in the high jump, long jump, triple jump and javelin.
“Having a guy like JC who can score a lot of points is huge,” Olson said. “He’s an exceptional athlete. In his first year becoming a decathlete, to take home some hardware at the national meet was pretty cool.”
Surprising in his final season as a Wildcat, Manuel Finley raced to a runner-up finish in the 800 meters, clocked a Linfield Top-10 time and was less than two seconds away from qualifying for nationals. Adrian Clifford supplied an additional NWC scoring performance on the track with a seventh-place effort in the 10K.
National qualifier Morgunn Ewing led a strong contingent of throwers. He, fellow senior Chris Beresford and Grim registered a 5-6-7 finish in the javelin. Jeff Lieder was a two-event NWC finalist and one of three Wildcats, including Ryne Fuhrmark and Scott Anderson, to score points in the shot put.
Pole vaulters Dallas Fagen and Hayden Davisson extended their talents to the decathlon, combing for five valuable team points at the NWC Multi-Event Championships.
Versatility was also a significant asset for the Linfield women, and none demonstrated that better than sophomore Olivia Bannerot. In addition to capturing the league’s heptathlon title, the NWC Women’s Field Athlete of the Meet scored points in the javelin and long jump, and qualified for the NCAA Championships in both the heptathlon and javelin.
Bannerot, whose name is “scattered everywhere” on the Linfield Top 10 list, including her standing as the program record holder in the heptathlon, was part of an outstanding group of underclassmen, among them fellow heptathletes Mehana Sabado-Halpern and Madeline Shirley. Sabado-Halpern was runner-up in the triple jump, while Shirley registered a top-five finish in the multi-event championship and qualified in six additional open events.
Rookie pole vaulter Olivia McDaniel and hurdler Kycie Richwine also contributed in big ways for the Wildcats.
But veterans reined supreme, too. Brenna Gomez enjoyed a phenomenal final season, finally coming through with a scoring finish in the heptathlon in addition to placing among the top eight in all three of her individual events. Dallas Edge reclaimed her 100-meter hurdle title and qualified for a third consecutive NCAA Championship event, though she was disappointedly unable to fulfill her own lofty expectations of making the finals.
“I think she’ll use this season as motivation to get to the point where she’s finishing races,” Olson said of Edge, a junior. “She’s faster than she’s ever been in the open 100, ran great relay legs and was a good captain for us.”
Switching to a lighter and faster mid-distance schedule (a 800/1,500 double versus the 1,500/5K slate of 2015) Kaelia Neal found her groove and clocked a pair of top-five finishes at the NWC Championships. Fellow distance runner Courtney Beard was a dual-event finalist in the 5K and 10K races.
Kailee Wright (hammer) and Patricia Reeves (high jump) also registered NWC scoring performances and cracked the top five in the record books for their respective events.
Overall, the Wildcat men (9) and women (17) combined for 26 Linfield Top-10 performances, and with plenty of young talent and the memory of this season fresh in their minds, should confidently remain a top-tier contender in the years to come.