Track athletes prepare for first home meet

Story by Lauren Bechard

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Just two meets into its outdoor season, the Baker University track and field teams already have five automatic bids to the NAIA national meet.

The men and women have also earned half of the Heart of America Athletic Conference Athlete of the Week honors that have been awarded this season.

Senior Katelyn Wolken was caught off guard when she was named HAAC Field AOW on March 24.

“It was so unexpected,” Wolken said. “That was the first time I’ve been named HAAC Athlete of the Week. It was exciting and an honor to be able to get that.”

Wolken is currently ranked No. 5 in the nation in the javelin throw, and she qualified for nationals when she surpassed both the NAIA ”A” standard and her personal record, with a 42.21-meter throw on March 22 at the Butch Reynolds Invite.

“When I threw it, I definitely knew it went a long ways, and I was sure it was over national qualifying standards, but I wasn’t sure just how much,” Wolken said. “I cheered for myself when I found out. I got pretty excited.”

Senior Stephanie Nelson is ranked No. 3 in the same event, and her 44.71-meter throw brought home first place at the Pittsburg State University “Wendy’s” Invite on March 28.

Nelson earned HAAC Field AOW honors on March 17 along with sophomore sprinter DayShawn Berndt, freshman distance runner Jillian Benson and freshman thrower Josh Peck, who won the award again just one week later.

Berndt was thrilled to learn he received the award and he said, “It’s nice to see that someone is noticing all of my hard work.”

Berndt thinks that the team’s success this season is made possible in part by the weather being especially nice.

“(The weather) has played a big role in the way everybody is competing this year,” Berndt said. “It’s a lot nicer than it was last year at this time, which is why we are ahead at this point in the season.”

One of Berndt’s expectations for his team is that it will send more athletes to nationals than ever before. He also hopes both the men’s and women’s programs can place in the top 10 at the big meet.

“We need to show up to practice every day ready to put in hard work,” Berndt said. “We also need to continue to push each other and strive to be the best.”

When sophomore Billi Pipes thinks about placing at nationals, she said. “This is the year to do it.”

“We have such a strong group of seniors to contribute to the underclassmen’s work,” Pipes said. “I think there are a few more people invested in (our goal) this year, too. Obviously the seniors are, because they have a lot more on the line. In order for us to win, though, we are going to have to come together as one big team. Everyone is committed to it, we all need to push each other and remind each other of the overall goal.”

Pipes said the team would like to place in the top three at nationals. In order to do so, she says the women need to remain focused from this point on.<br/>

“We definitely need to (realize) we are eight weeks out from nationals,” Pipes said. “We don’t have time to waste… As a team, we need to push each other to start living the right lifestyle as far as diet, training and sleep. We need to change those habits when we have time, not just a week before nationals, so we can start making our goal a reality.”

Next up, the Wildcats will have the chance to compete on their home track when they host the BU Relays on Saturday.

While Pipes is hoping she and other members of the Baker track and field teams can qualify for nationals, Wolken said it will be encouraging to have the support of BU fans at the meet.

“It’s just being comfortable at your own track that makes everybody be more relaxed and easy going,” Wolken said. “I think it helps us to not be as nervous, and it’s nice to have people come out and watch since it’s at home.”