Nine track and field athletes qualify for nationals

Story by Lauren Bechard

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The Baker University men’s and women’s indoor track teams already have nine athletes headed to nationals in 12 different events.

Knowing that indoor conference championships are right around the corner, sophomore Billi Pipes was starting to feel anxious about qualifying for the big races. The sprinter didn’t feel like she was performing up to her potential.

“At the beginning of the season, I set a specific time where I want to be … it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen,” Pipes said. “I was just convinced that I wasn’t going to be among the top in the nation.”

And then, after running a 59.68 second 400-meter at the Missouri Southern State University Lion Invitational on Saturday, everything fell into place for Pipes.

“When my time came up on the board, I didn’t believe it,” Pipes said. “And then my coach told me my time, and I didn’t believe it still. I didn’t believe it until the sheet came out. I was really excited.”

For the women, seniors Katie Thurbon, Valerie Schirmer, Ariella Harrison, juniors Aadrian McCollum, Tyler Sloan and Kayla Hannam, and freshman Jana Koegel have also qualified for nationals.

At the MSSU Lion Invitational, Pipes also took third-place in the 200-meter dash with a time of 25.27 seconds and Schirmer took third in shot put after a 13.08-meter throw.

On the men’s side, senior Jeremy Gathright is the only member to have qualified for nationals so far. The 2013 national outdoor 400-meter dash champion has qualified in the triple jump and long jump as well as the 400-meter dash. However, his season temporarily came to a halt due to injury.

Sophomore Avery Parker has felt some added pressure and the need to step up since Gathright became injured. However, that pressure isn’t enough to deflate the triple jumper.

“I kind of like people depending on me I guess,” Parker said. “Sometimes, it makes me perform better to know that people are depending on me. I can’t expect to fill (Gathright’s) shoes, because he is the national champion. I just do the best I can so the team can continue doing the best (it) can, just like before he got hurt.”

Last season, Parker qualified for nationals in the triple jump. He is hoping to hit that mark again this year while becoming acquainted with more of his teammates in order to add to the success of the team.

“Our main goal is to get to know everyone,” Parker said. “We want to support everybody and cheer each other on … There isn’t anybody selfish on the team. We have a good team concept.”

Pipes agrees and says that her team is peaking at just the right time.

“As a whole, we’ve definitely had our challenges,” Pipes said. “Everyone is starting to come out on the other side, though. Everybody is starting to (achieve personal records), hit their marks, and really come together as a team.”

The BU track teams will travel to Warrensburg, Mo., for their next competitions. The women will compete on Friday with the men to follow the next day.

This will be the last track meet before the teams travel to Lamoni, Iowa, for the HAAC Indoor Championships on Feb. 21 and 22.