The week that Northwest indoor track and field has been waiting for is finally here. The Bearcats will be competing for a chance to etch their names in the MIAA history books at the MIAA Indoor Track and Field Championships Feb. 28-March 1 in Pittsburg, Kansas.
Coach Brandon Masters has geared the whole season around getting the athletes ready for postseason competition. There is a palpable excitement around the team now that the week they have all been waiting for is finally here, along with a strong sense of determination.
“Everybody is definitely starting to get more serious compared to the last couple of weeks,” senior Tyrell Maddox said. “We all have that set goal in mind of trying to win conference.”
The men come into the meet more or less the favorites as they are the top-ranked team in the MIAA by USTFCCCA. Masters wants the men to keep the hunter mentality that has been their mindset all year and said that Missouri Southern is the team to beat in the MIAA.
“We have to have that mentality, we’re not defending anything. You have to win something first,” Masters said. “Until you’ve won something, you are always the underdog, in my mind.”
The men fell 6 points shy of a conference title in 2019, and they are looking to avenge that loss.
The women head into the conference meet in a different situation. While being ranked third nationally in USTFCCCA, the women are not favored for the conference title because of the strength of the MIAA. The women are still going into Pittsburg State confident, senior Hiba Mahgoub said.
“I just think our team is really ready for it after what we did this weekend or the past weekend before that. We had really great marks and times,” Mahgoub said.
Mahgoub is coming off a strong showing at the Nebraska Tune-Up Feb. 21 in Lincoln, Nebraska. The senior sprinter set a program and personal record in the 200-meter dash with a time of 23 seconds and 89 milliseconds, which automatically qualified her for the NCAA Division II National Championships.
Mahgoub was also the first runner in the women’s 4-x-400 team with sophomores Addie Palser, Moe Bianchi and freshman Aliyah Simmons, which took home the crown at the Nebraska Tune-Up. The team ran a time of 3:50.89, which is a provisional qualifying time for nationals.
“As far as I’m concerned, she is the girl to beat at the national level as far as the 400 and the 200,” Masters said of Mahgoub.
Mahgoub is one of the leaders on the women’s side along with fellow senior Jordan Hammond among others. The women struggle from having a lack of depth, Masters said, which will make winning a conference title in the highly competitive MIAA more difficult.
“We have to do everything right because we don’t have the depth,” Masters said. “Not as many of our women are in scoring positions across the board.”
Depth is more important to a conference victory than success at nationals, Masters said, given the number of athletes that will compete at both. Conference is scored on a points system based on top eight finishes. The more depth, the larger the chance a team will have at securing those spots.
The scoring of conference requires a lot of strategy from the coaching staff on where to place people in events. Athletes need to be placed in the events they are most likely to get a top-eight finish in.
These events don’t necessarily need to be the athlete’s primary event. Mahgoub remembers at conference last year when she was running against a woman who was primarily a jumper up until conference.
“I was like, ‘Who is this person?’” Mahgoub said. “Like, it’s surprising. I want to beat her, she’s just a jumper.”
Masters, Mahgoub and Maddox all agreed that conference can bring out some wild cards in terms of performances. Runners that have never had a top 10 finish suddenly rip off a second-place finish at conference because, they said, that’s just what happens.
“You definitely have guys show up and someone will outperform what they are expected to, and that will be a big help,” Maddox said.
In particular, Maddox said he expected a surprise from a Northwest runner in the men’s 600-meter run but didn’t specify who.
MIAA conference will also be a much more team-oriented meet for the Bearcats than any other meets thus far this season. Normal meets are more individual, while conference is all about the team Maddox said.
“The high energy is gonna make us perform better,” Maddox said.
Masters and Mahgoub agreed with that sentiment and said the runners will always run harder for the team than for themselves. There is a bigger purpose behind individual performances, they said. The team’s cohesiveness will enhance the overall atmosphere of the MIAA championships, Masters said.
“This is why we do what we do,” Masters said. “The atmosphere is completely different; it’s electric and it’s gotta be.”
Mahgoub will be competing in her final conference meet, which she says makes it all the more special for her to come away with a win. She described herself as somewhat lax and disillusioned in previous years but said she is locked in this year.
“I want it more this year,” Mahgoub said. “This year, I don’t care what time you run, I’m gonna come get you.”
The way the men and women perform at conference could change the perception of the Northwest track and field program, Mahgoub said. Northwest hasn’t been considered a perennial power in the past, Mahgoub and Masters said, but victory at the MIAA championships could change that.
“I think it’s gonna really change the face of Northwest track and field, what it means to the school and what it means to DII track and field,” Mahgoub said.
“It’s a long way from where we began this journey when I started,” Masters added.