The Baker Orange

Indoor track sends nine to nationals

Story by Lauren Bechard

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Baker University head track and field coach Zach Kindler says its the “team environment” that allows the program to thrive time and time again.

“There’s a determination to be successful in the environment,” Kindler said. “As always, it’s a thrill to coach them, watch them, and to be a part of it all.”

After both the men’s and women’s teams earned third consecutive Heart of America Athletic Conference titles, nine members of the Baker University indoor track teams are headed to Geneva, Ohio, for the 2014 NAIA Indoor Track National Championships beginning on Thursday.

While Kindler said it is “gratifying” to win another HAAC title, junior Kayla Hannam had a hunch that the BU teams would take conference yet again.

“We always have the idea of what we’re capable of,” Hannam said. “We knew we were going in (to conference) as soon-to-be champions, but we didn’t get big heads about it. We looked at it as, ‘let’s just do what we did last year’ and then we went all in.”

Hannam took first in high jump, triple jump and long jump at conference, and this year will mark her second appearance at the national meet. She hopes to become an All-American as she participates in the high jump and triple jump events.

Although Hannam is ranked No. 10 and No. 15 in triple jump and high jump, respectively, headed into the meet, she is nervous for the competition and explained that she handles her pre-nationals jitters by remaining open-minded.

“I’m preparing by not putting too much pressure on myself,” Hannam said. “I am confident in my skills now, and I know not to let my nerves take over. Not get too excited about it, not be too confident, go into it like it’s any other meet.”

It may as well be ‘just another meet’ for All-American senior Jeremy Gathright, who is a four-time national qualifier and will compete in the 400-meter dash, long jump and triple jump this year. However, the senior has been recovering from a knee injury for a majority of his final indoor season.

In fact, the HAAC championships was Gathright’s first meet back after recovering from injury, but that didn’t seem to affect him as he brought home first place in the 400-meter dash and triple jump.

He looks ahead to nationals with confidence in his ability, but understands it may take extra effort this time around.

“I want to win, of course,” Gathright in a press conference with the Baker Athletic Department. “I want to come back with three national championships, but at the same time I do recognize that it’s been a long recovery process with my knee and everything. And I know I’m not 100 percent, but you better believe I’m going to try to come back with at least one national championship.”

In addition to Hannam and Gathright, freshman Jana Koegel, sophomore Billi Pipes, junior Tyler Sloan, and seniors Megan Rosa, Katie Thurbon, Valarie Schirmer and Stephanie Nelson will compete at nationals as well.

“We’re doing what we call ‘fine tuning’ with our qualifiers now,” Kindler said. “It’s the calm before the storm right now. We are hoping to get a couple of quality practices in before we leave for Ohio.”

Kindler wants his athletes to keep in mind that while nationals is the highest level they will compete at in their collegiate careers, they should just “keep doing what you did to get there.”

“It’s easy to get excited and nervous and let emotions get the best of you at nationals,” Kindler said. “We want to channel those emotions to affect us positively instead of negatively.”

Hannam thinks her team is “strong-willed and mentally prepared for whatever happens” Thursday-Sunday. Despite the tension that nationals can bring, she knows her teammates will still be supportive of one other.

“We know how to have fun with what we are doing and don’t put too much pressure on each other,” Hannam said. “We make sure to still enjoy our sport no matter what happens.”

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