Sprinter Londen Wheeler set the tone for the day by breaking PRs in both the 200m and 400m races. (Photo by Wayne Gehman)

Personal records drop like flies at Liberty Twilight

Although the full body of athletes has gone home for the year, the Eastern Mennonite track & field teams still sent a number of men and women to Thursday’s Liberty Twilight Qualifier in Lynchburg, Va. The meet was loaded with elite talent, including Olympic medalists and top-5 world leading performers, which helped the Royals set a number of personal records.

The men had the biggest contingent participating, and the runners made a habit out of clocking their career best times.

Londen Wheeler (Nelson, Va./Nelson County) had a great day as he set personal bests in both the 200m (23.09) and 400m (52.87). Philip Watson (Philadelphia, Pa./La Salle) also scored a PR in the 200m at 23.17, while Rashan Winters (Mechanicsville, Va./Atlee) finished with a time of 22.71. Winters also led the trio in the 400m with a time of 50.38.

Alec Thibodeaux (Staunton, Va./Fort Defiance) had a breakthrough performance in the 800m as the freshman took sixth overall with a huge PR time of 1:54.58. The time puts him No. 3 on the all-time EMU list and just 0.06 seconds from Marcel Long at No. 2.

Jared Nisly (Lancaster, Pa./Lancaster Mennonite) shaved six seconds off of his personal best time in the 3000m steeplechase, finishing fifth at the meet in 10:13.06. He improves his No. 5 time in the EMU record books.

In the high jump, Jordan King (Dalton, Oh./Central Christian) took fifth with a best height of 1.99m. After clearing 1.99m, King passed on the next height (2.04m), which was a mark he had already attained this year, and went for 2.09m (6-10.25ft). His third attempt was his best, but he just grazed the bar with his heel and did not clear the height. Drew Vrolijk (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg) had an earlier than expected exit from the competition, but still grabbed a top-10 finish with a mark of 1.89m (6-2.25ft).

In the throws, Jeremy Heizer (Staunton, Va./Riverheads) had a huge day, taking home two personal best marks. In the shot put, he placed fifth overall with a best toss of 13.02m (42-8.75ft), good for No. 8 on the EMU list. In the discus, his best toss of 34.90m (114-6ft) was good for ninth place overall.

Hannah Chappell-Dick (Bluffton Oh./Bluffton) was the lone female participant for EMU, but she made her presence felt in her one race. The sophomore dropped down to run the 400m and sped to the No. 2 time in EMU history at 59.08. Chappell-Dick’s time was more than a second faster than her previous best. Lorenda Abbott set the EMU record at 58.08 in 1999.

Coach Jason Lewkowicz said he was very pleased with the efforts the meet.

“We had personal best marks all over the place and some folks were able to end their season on high note,” Lewkowicz explained. “Jeremy Heizer had a great day in the throws and it’s hard to believe that he’s only been throwing for a few months. His improvement has been very impressive. Alec Thibodeaux got put in a great heat of 800m runners and cut over two seconds off of his lifetime best in the event. Finally, I was really proud of how Londen Wheeler competed, taking home two huge PRs in the 200m and 400m.”

The focus continues for a handful of EMU athletes to prepare for trips to the national meet later in May. Despite not running in the event at Liberty, Chappell-Dick is No. 4 in the nation in the 800m at 2:11.89, and seems a lock to qualify for nationals. King is currently No. 19 with his height of 2.04m (6-8.25ft) from the ODAC Championships and seems likely to earn a spot in the field of 22 participants. Vrolijk is tied at No. 28 at 2.00m (6-6.75ft).

Lewkowicz sees King hitting his stride and hopes his senior can go out on a high note.

“Jordan King was able to take jumps at over 6-10,” he said, “and although he was unable to improve his season best mark, he came really close and goes into next week with confidence to get those few extra centimeters he needs to cement a place at the NCAA championships.”

Eastern Mennonite’s tracksters are at back-to-back meets next week, with many of the Royals participating in Thursday’s Roanoke Twilight Invitational.  Just a handful will turn around the next day for the high-level Virginia Challenge in Charlottesville.