Women’s track and field finish indoor with No. 10 national ranking

Samira Kassem

Senior Cora Wilkinson hands off the baton to junior Rebekah Harden in the 4×400 meter relay.
Photo: Illinois Wesleyan University

Despite all of the hardships that the last year has brought, women’s track and field continued to impress this week. The Titans wrapped up their indoor season hosting the CCIW elite meet at our very own Shirk Center last Saturday, March 14. 

The team performed incredibly well, earning 10 individual first place finishes and seven season best performances which was enough for a No.1 ranking in the CCIW and No. 10 national team ranking from the The United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). The team’s top ten national finish is the eighth in program history.  

   “This was the most balanced team I have had in my twenty-four years at IWU,” head coach Chris Schumacher said. 

Wins were picked up across the board in distance, sprints and field events.   

“This team set their sights on winning the CCIW indoor this year and although it wasn’t a true championship, they exceeded the goal,” Schumacher said. 

In a normal year, conference championships would be awarded based on finish at the all-CCIW meet at the end of the season.

This year, since that many athletes are not permitted in one venue all at once, wins were determined by the CCIW via a running list of season best times. The top athletes for each event were then invited to compete in this weekend’s elite meet. 

The national meet was also cancelled for indoor and ranked in a similar fashion by the USTFCCCA. 

“It feels really special to have achieved this ranking in a season we were not even sure we were going to get. It is really hard to go out there and compete to your full strength when you do not get to race against our full conference, so I feel really lucky that I was able to run as well as I did” CCIW 5000 meter champion Katie North said.

North achieved a season best of 17:34.98 which beat out the competition by over 40 seconds and ranked her No. 5 in all of DIII for indoor.

North does not plan to let her achievements stop there and has big goals for outdoor.

“I am a 10k runner, and I am just excited to be able to race one again. It has been over a year since I have raced a 10k, and I think I am in a really great position to run a very solid time. Obviously, I am aiming to win the 10k given we have an outdoor conference, but I also have my eyes on some pretty big time goals,” North said. 

The 10,000 meter run is the longest collegiate running event at 25 laps around the outdoor track which adds up to just over six miles.

North is congratulated by head distance coach Greg Huffacker.
Photo: Illinois Wesleyan University

 

Other first place finishes on the distance side included season best times from Jenna Mirande, Rebekah Harden and Kelsey Wyman in the 3000 meter (10:35.68), mile (5:04.26) and 800 meter (2:19.53), respectively. 

“This team is the only bond I can say I am proud to know and be a part of,” Harden said. 

Although they did not race them on Saturday, Harden (10:20.51) and North (10:25.29) went one and two in the conference for the 3000 meter run and Harden took second for the 800 (2:19.65). 

Harden finished the indoor season ranked No.10 for the mile and No.13 for the 3000 meter run nationally. 

In sprints, sophomore standout Addison Bendery topped the 60 meter dash with a season best of 7.77 and the 200 meter dash clocking in at 25.89. She finished ranked No. 9 and No.7 in the nation, respectively.  

 “In general, I love to win, but I care more about how I perform. I want to do my best each time in hopes of a personal record. Winning is an added bonus but the time itself means the most to me,” Bendery said. “I try to look at the bigger picture than the race at hand.This is my first win in the CCIW which is really exciting to me since we do have pretty good competition as a conference.” 

In throws, senior Ayana Blair tossed just short of her school record-breaking season best of 13.69 but topped the meet and CCIW standings. Her weight throw season best was also enough for a first place finish. Blair ranked No.7 and No.3 nationally. 

Bendery and Blair were awarded the two CCIW Athlete of the Week awards which marks the first sweep of the awards by the Titans since Maddie Zimmer and Amelia Gleuck in February of 2017. Zimmer and Gleuck went on to achieve multiple All-American finishes during their time with IWU. 

Blair is currently the school record holder in the shot put.
Photo: Illinois Wesleyan University

In the jumps, senior Cora Wilkinson and junior Emma Helferich went one and two this weekend and in the overall conference rankings with jumps of 5.50m and 5.45m, respectively.   

“Shirk brings out my best jumps,” Helferich said. 

The Titan’s momentum continued into relays this indoor season. The distance medley relay (DMR) of Harden, Wilkinson, Wyman and Mirande topped the conference in 12:49.89, over 20 seconds faster than second place. 

In the 4×400 meter relay, the team of Wyman, Benerdy, Wilkinson and Harden ran a season best Saturday of 4:01.09 to win the conference by just over a second and earn a No. 10 ranking nationally. 

“It has been so fun to see Titan-after-Titan cross the finish line first. If all goes well we should have a handful competing at the outdoor NCAA championships,” Schumacher said.  

The Titans will head to Mckendree University in Lebanon, Ill. for their first competition of outdoor season on April 2.