New Season, Same Message for Track and Field Scots
Monmouth, IL (01/14/2020) — A new season and a change in the landscape won't mean a change in plans for the Monmouth College track and field team, which is aiming for its 21st straight Midwest Conference indoor men's title in 2020.
The Scots - whose men have won 24 of the last 25 Midwest Conference indoor championships and 18 of the last 19 outdoor titles - have stuck to their routine heading into the indoor season. Half the league's teams took advantage of an early December start to the indoor season, but the Scots opted to stay with their proven "track" record.
"We'll continue to follow our formula," said coach Roger Haynes, now in his 37th season. "With the amount of dual-sport athletes we have from the fall, we really didn't feel we were 100 percent ready to do a December meet. There are highs and lows in each season and I'm not sure we needed to get an early start. We need to focus on what we always have, and that's the end-of-the-season championship meets."
The Scots did add to their roster, gaining more than 20 newcomers on the men's and women's teams. Merging the newcomers with a solid returning corps which includes a dozen conference champions could put Monmouth in position for another team title.
"Every team is different, but we do return a fair amount on both sides," reported Haynes. "We feel like we should be competitive in the league. What the December start did was show that some other teams have kids who will compete at the conference level. We did fill some holes on both sides and we're counting on that to make us an improved team this year."
Monmouth's men will start with a good base in the sprints, where senior Stone Darrow (Lowpoint, Ill./Lowpoint-Washburn) won three league crowns last season - the indoor 60-meter dash and the outdoor 100 and 200 races.
"Our sprint guys represented us well at the conference relays last year," said Haynes. "We have high expectations for Stone as a senior, but we have some younger guys who are starting to emerge as well."
Returning sophomore Alexander Brock (Lexington, Ill./Lexington) and juniors Alex Cutright (Glenwood Springs, Colo./Glenwood Springs) and Zach Vancil (Little York, Ill./West Central) are expected to join Darrow as main contributors in the sprints.
"They're a year older and that's a plus," said Haynes of the trio. "They were good a year ago and we expect even more this year. They've put in a ton of work and we expect to see that pay dividends in the relays as well as the individual races."
A strong cross country season last fall has the Scots optimistic for the distance events. Haynes is hoping that the fall success of senior Tanner Heiple (Pekin, Ill./Pekin), junior Griff Morrill (Sugar Grove, Ill./West Aurora) and sophomore Riley Dulin (Monmouth, Ill./Monmouth-Roseville), who all earned all-league cross country honors, will translate to success on the oval.
"Tanner, Griff and Riley should be solid for us based on their success last fall," said Haynes. "I'm a little concerned about the middle-distance events, but we have plugged some gaps, so we'll have to wait and see."
Junior Darius Williams (Bay City, Texas/Van Vleck) returns in the sand jumps, where he won the outdoor long jump title after then-sophomore Seth Andersen (Galesburg, Ill./Galesburg) took the indoor crown and added the triple jump title for good measure. Senior Chandler Claude' (Evergreen Park, Ill./Brother Rice) and juniors Austin Pfau (Leland, Ill./Somonauk) and Clayton Schulenberg (Orion, Ill./Orion) add depth in the triple jump. Sophomore twins Jonathan Oradiegwu (Richmond, Texas/Stephen F. Austin) and Joseph Oradiegwu will return to the jumps following the conclusion of their basketball season.
The men also return senior Joe Krall (New Berlin, Ill./New Berlin), who earned his first track All-American honor a year ago and won the league indoor shot put title and the outdoor hammer throw. He's joined by junior Drew Thaxton (Decatur, Ill./Eisenhower), the outdoor shot champion. Sophomore Chris Kimble (Naples, Fla./St. John Neumann) is also among the deep stable of throwers.
"Joe, Drew and Chris were all scorers from a year ago and that's always good," said Haynes. "We should be improved in the throws."
Monmouth's women, like the men, have a solid group in all the disciplines. They'll be aiming to reclaim a league team title after a string of runner-up finishes. The women last won the crown in 2014, but look to return to the top with plenty of depth.
Seniors Aleeka Gentzler (Paxton, Ill./Paxton-Buckley-Loda) and Vanessa Caldwell (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee) headline the women's returners after Gentzler took the MWC indoor high jump crown in 2019 and Caldwell earned the outdoor 100 hurdle title. The squad also touts sophomore speedster Jordan Peckham (Farmington, Ill./Farmington) and four all-league cross country runners, which includes sophomores Arika Hofmann (Monmouth, Ill./Monmouth-Roseville) and Mik Moore (Washington, Ill./Deer Creek-Mackinaw), to give the Scots legitimate contenders in all distances.
"We always want to have good depth coming up through the ranks," explained Haynes. "The cross country women had a good season and we feel good about the long and short sprints. We have a top-line performer in every event. We'd like to add two or three more in the events for scoring. We certainly expect good things from the sophomore group. I feel like we have some freshmen who can fill some gaps, and the throws group is solid, too, with our returners and some solid freshmen."
Juniors Leigha Sebben (Rock Island, Ill./Rock Island) and Hannah McVey (Monmouth, Ill./Monmouth-Roseville) and sophomore Kareema Lawal (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East) form the foundation in the throws.
"Hannah and Leigha have certainly set a good standard in the weight room," praised Haynes. "Kareema has made good improvement with a very good fall. We've also got two or three freshmen we feel will step up. That should be a talented and deep group who will be competitive. If we're deep enough, we might be able to have them throw one less event each and that could be a good thing to keep them fresh as the season goes on."
Haynes also expects good things in the jumps, where Gentzler leads the high jump pack. Sophomore sand jumper Cindy Ladner (Galesburg, Ill./Galesburg) and junior pole vaulter Katy Hayes (Romeoville, Ill./Plainfield East) are the top returners in their specialties.
"We've got proven scorers in the jumps, but we'll need some young ones to step up," predicted Haynes. "I feel that we've got a solid high jump group. We should be stronger with another freshman in the pole vault. We're still looking for that extra link in the sand jumps."
With nearly all the pieces in place, the Scots will get a first-hand look this weekend when they host the seven-team Midwest Invitational - their first meet of the season. The opening meet could give Haynes a vision of what the future holds.
"It's hard to tell exactly what the conference meet will look like," said Haynes. "St. Norbert graduated a strong class, and the rest of the league has made improvements. Every season is different and you never know exactly where everything will fit. We expect to be in the mix and that's where we want to be."