Richard Robinson claimed two All-ODAC honors in the hurdles during his freshman season. (Photo by Wayne Gehman)

Track teams poised to break more records

How do you improve upon a season in which the team broke 12 different program records?  If you are EMU track & field Coach Jason Lewkowicz, you bring back most of your key performers and throw in another round of skilled recruits for a promising third year of rebuilding the Royals track program.

“I’m really excited to see growth in our track & field program this year,” Lewkowicz said.  “We have a lot of talented newcomers on the men’s side and a number of All-ODAC performers returning for the women.  Expectations are high and we are excited about that.”

Hannah Chappell-Dick (Bluffton, Oh./Bluffton) is back for her sophomore season after breaking five Eastern Mennonite middle distance records in her first year.  For the men, Jordan King (Dalton, Oh./Central Christian) will look to improve on his incredible growth from last year.  As a junior transfer, King was talked into trying the high jump by Lewkowicz.  In his first-ever campaign in the event, King won both the indoor and outdoor ODAC titles, and also broke the EMU outdoor record.  Not bad.

Lewkowicz said that with a balance of faith, team camaraderie and talent, he senses his men and women are poised to reach new heights in 2014.

“We are looking to continue to build off of that success from last year and part of that is the expectation that school records will continue to be broken,” he explained.  “This adds to the level of excitement on the team because setting records is an indication of performing at a level that will help us as a team at the ODAC level.  At the end of the day, the goal is to get better each time out and let the accolades come as they will.”

Also back for the men is sophomore Richard Robinson (Broadway, Va./Broadway), who took the silver in the 60m hurdles at the ODAC indoor meet and bronze in the 100m hurdles at the outdoor meet.  For the women, sophomore Chafin Brumfield (Harrisonburg, Va./Spotswood) was third in 800m outdoor race, finishing just behind Chappell-Dick.  The women had a distance medley relay team take third at the indoor meet in 2013, and Brumfield, Saralyn Mast (Gap, Pa./Lancaster Mennonite), and Juni Schirch (Goshen, Ind./Goshen) all return from that foursome.  Another sophomore, Becca Borg (Gig Harbor, Wash./Peninsula), was third in the javelin last spring to round out EMU’s athletes who earned an All-ODAC honor last year.

Lewkowicz expects those athletes to be the core of his squads this year, along with Lanae Kreider (Harrisonburg, Va./Broadway) in the distance runs, Alyssa Bane (Strasburg, Va./Strasburg) in the throws and jumper Erica Garber (Canby, Ore./Western Mennonite).  Garber earned the No. 3 spot in the EMU record books in both the indoor and outdoor triple jump as a freshman in 2011, but took the last two years off.  For men, Drew Vrolijk (Harrisonburg, Va./Eastern Mennonite) will help push King in the high jump.  Last year as a freshman, he broke the school’s indoor high jump record before King took it over.  Cross country standouts Ryan Gehman (Millersville, Pa./Lancaster Mennonite) and Jacob Landis (Sterling, Ill./Sterling) will lead the distance group.

EMU’s coach pointed out that the men’s talent level is getting much deeper this year.

“In the hurdles, All-ODAC performer Richard Robinson is joined by talented freshman Azariah Cox (Lynchburg, Va./Heritage),” explained Lewkowicz.  “Rashan Winters (Mechanicsville, Pa./Atlee) and Alex Crespo (Virginia Beach, Va./Bayside) highlight a talented group of freshmen sprinters, with Alec Thibodeaux (Staunton, Va./Fort Defiance) and Tyler Denlinger (Perkasie, Pa./Christopher Dock) coming into a middle distance group that could score a lot of points at the ODAC meets.  Returners Jonathan Bush (Pottstown, Pa./Owen J. Roberts), Philip Watson (Philadelphia, Pa./La Salle) and Londen Wheeler (Nelson, Va./Nelson Country) give us a level of depth that we have not had in years.”

Along with the freshmen men that Lewkowicz pointed out, he noted a handful of returners who might turn heads with the improvements they have made.

“I think Erica Garber will make steady progress as the season goes on,” he said.  “Juni Schirch and Krista Rittenhouse (Mt. Pleasant, Pa./Mt. Pleasant Area) missed most of last year due to sickness and injury and I expect them both to do well.  On the men’s side, Philip Watson and Jonathan Bush are poised to breakout this season.

With a number of Royals runners either competing or training with the cross country team this fall, Lewkowicz explains the transition of the group into the track season.

“Moving out of a successful cross country season, the focus turned to bringing the entire track team together as a unit,” he said.  “We have a lot of newcomers, some folks returning from/leaving for cross culturals, and some returning from injuries.  Getting everyone on the same page and focused on the same goals is always a priority.  We are also putting a lot of emphasis on doing the little things well to help keep us healthy in body, mind and spirit.

After years of running their championship meets with an “open” format, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference has added qualifying standards this year.  Although the Eastern Mennonite teams continue to grow in number (25 men and 14 women), the benchmarks are more likely to provide nice targets for EMU’s athletes rather than limit how many Royals participate.

“At this point, the standards should not have too much of an effect on our team,” said Lewkowicz, “since each school is guaranteed three spots in each event, regardless of time/mark attained, in addition to four ‘wild card’ placements at the ODAC meet.  While we do have depth in several areas that could leave some folks out, I believe most of our athletes will be able to hit the qualifying mark for their respective event(s).”

The 2013 track season nearly became synonymous breaking records, and the Royals hope to do the same thing in 2014.  They also want to rise out of the middle of the pack at the ODAC meet.

“We want both teams to improve their finish at the ODAC meet, both for the indoor and outdoor season,” Lewkowicz said.  “We already saw a school record broken at the December meet and we anticipate a lot more of that taking place over the course of the season.  It is also my hope that we use our platform as a collegiate team to represent our university well and to glorify Christ through our attitude, effort, humility and sportsmanship.  He is the giver of all good gifts and we want to honor Him in all that we do.”

The EMU teams are in action this weekend at the Liberty Open in Lynchburg.  The ODAC Indoor Championships are March 2 in Hampton, Va., with nationals two weeks later in Lincoln, Neb.  The outdoor season then starts on March 22, with the ODAC Outdoor Championships on April 18 and 19.  After a handful of “last chance” meets, the national outdoor meet is May 22-24 in Delaware, Ohio.