BROOKINGS, S.D. — The Westmont men’s and women’s track and field teams found themselves on both ends of the spectrum following day one of the NAIA Indoor National Championships. While two Westmont relay teams punched their ticket to the finals, another stumbled en route to the opportunity.
Overall, however, the first day in Brookings, South Dakota gave the team their first taste of national-level competition in 2022, an experience that will help them propel forward in the coming days and weeks.
“It was a good day,” stated Westmont head coach Russell Smelley. “People did what they were able to do. First experiences at nationals are always 50-50. It can go wildly good and it can also be just average. For us, having an average day, I just think we were a little dazed by everything.”
Before the relays later in the day, sophomore Lily Sween kicked off nationals for Westmont in the women’s pentathlon. In her Indoor nationals debut, Sween took 13th place overall with 3,193 points. In the 60 meter hurdles, the meet’s first event, Sween had a tough hole to dig herself out of when she placed 16th of 16 with a time of 9.86
However, Sween followed up the hurdles with her two best performances of the day, first in the high jump and second in the shot put. In the high jump, Sween cleared 1.55m (5-1), which was eighth-best among participants. Next, in the shot put, Sween’s best toss went 10.17m (33-4.5). Sween finished seventh in the shot put, which was her best finish of the day.
In the penultimate event of the pentathlon, Sween’s best launch in the long jump landed her at 5.18m (17-0). Sween finished 11th in the long jump. Finally, in the 800 meter run, Sween capped off her performance with a 12th place finish after completing the event in 2:35.39.
While Sween was finishing the shot put in the afternoon, redshirt sophomore Garrett Miller was the first member of the men’s team to take part in competition. Miller competed in the prelims of the men’s 5000 meter run, and finished with a time of 15:23.35, taking 29th place in the competition. Miller’s time was nearly a full-minute faster than his personal best from 2021.
The next group of Warriors to compete were the men’s 4×800 relay team, who came ready to race in the preliminaries. Jason Peterson, Andres Leon, Adam King, and Zola Sokhela finished the relay with a time of 7:39.30, which was the best mark in either of the two heats.
When Sokhela, the club’s bonafide anchor, took over for the final stretch, he found himself in third place with about a 15-meter gap between him and the lead. Not only did Sokhela surpass both men in front of him, but the showman had enough time to ease up as he approached the finish line, while wagging his left index finger in the air.
The 4×800 relay team will compete in the finals of the event at 3:35 p.m. PDT on Friday.
Westmont’s final two races of the evening were the prelims of the distance medley relay, which both the men and women qualified for.
First up was the women’s team that consisted of Kari Anema, Jaiden Rodriguez, Abigail Hundley, and Anneline Breytenbach. Together, the women finished the relay in 12:07.80, which was the sixth-best time of the day. The women will compete in the finals of the distance medley relay on Saturday at 2:20 p.m. PDT.
The women’s relay time was 12 seconds faster than their personal best coming into the day.
“The women did fantastic,” expressed Smelley. “They did everything they could do and then some. They improved their time considerably. They were really outstanding.”
The day came to a bittersweet end for the Warriors when the men competed in the final heat of the DMR to close the day. Leading things off, Adam King had the Warriors in the heart of the pack after 1200 meters, before handing things off to Ben Bodine for the 400.
As Bodine’s 400 came to a close, disaster struck for the relay team. As Bodine approached Jack Vanden Heuvel for the 800 meter portion of the race, the Warriors were right in the thick of it with a realistic chance of qualifying for the finals. However, as Bodine offered the baton to Vanden Heuvel, the latter began his stride before the handoff was successful. Both men fell to the ground as Bodine lunged forward and Vanden Heuvel collapsed, realizing he did not possess the baton.
Both men took a hard fall, and were initially slow to get up. To Vanden Heuvel’s credit, the freshman got back up, grabbed the baton, and ran his two laps before handing it off to Sokhela for the final leg. The men ultimately finished the relay with a time of 10:30.39, which was not fast enough to reach the finals of the DMR.
Most importantly, however, both Bodine and Vanden Heuvel were physically okay following the scare.
“When something like that happens, the first thing you do is see if they’re okay,” offered Smelley. “When someone falls down, the biggest priority is making sure no one’s hurt, then you figure out what happened. It was just an error amidst the excitement and we missed the baton exchange. Still, Jack got up and ran a great leg.”
Tomorrow, the Warriors are back in action at 10:00 a.m. PDT when Breytenbach competes in the women’s mile semifinals. Twenty minutes later, Sokhela and King will compete in the semifinals of the men’s mile.
At 1:00 p.m. PDT, Abby Rumohr will make her Indoor Nationals debut when she competes in the women’s pole vault. Abigail Hundley will run in the women’s 1000 meter race semifinals at 1:15 p.m. PDT. At 1:30 p.m. PDT, Sokhela, Vanden Heuvel, and Peterson will compete in the semis of the men’s 1000 meter run.
At 1:55 p.m. PDT, Anema will compete in the semifinals of the women’s 3000 meter race. Lastly, at 3:35 p.m. PDT, the men’s 4×800 relay team will compete in the finals of the event, with the chance of becoming Westmont’s first NAIA All-Americans of 2022.
Jacob Norling is the sports information assistant at Westmont College.