Raucous cheers, seniors winning in their final conference meet and one major cramp defined Northwest indoor track and field’s performance at the MIAA Indoor Track & Field Championships Feb. 28-March 1 in Pittsburg, Kansas.
Conference is different from most track meets in that it is a team competition with point totals assigned to places in events. Points are given to the top 8 finishes in each event with eighth place earning a single point, all the way up to first, which earns 10 points.
The women finished the meet securing fourth with a total of 88 points. The Pittsburg State women won the MIAA title with 137 points. The men placed third with 102 points. Conference champion Missouri Southern posted 142 points.
The men’s performance at the meet was mostly characterized by what could have been, opposed to what happened. Sophomore Omar Austin, described by coach Brandon Masters as the team’s “lightning rod” and leader on the track, was injured on the second day of the meet after a major quad cramp. Austin tried to power through the cramp in the 200-meter preliminary round and Masters estimated that worsened the injury. The injury forced Austin to trade in his cleats for crutches for the rest of the meet.
“When Omar went down the wind just fell out of our sails,” Masters said.
Austin’s injury, Masters said, took at least 20 points off the board for the Bearcats and forced them to use an alternate in 4-x-400 meter relay, which Austin normally anchored. The relay team at conference, comprised of freshman Gavyn Monday, junior Caelon Harkey, senior Tyrell Maddox and alternate sophomore Abdelrahim Mahgoub, placed third and posted a time of 3 minutes, 11 seconds and 89 milliseconds, which was the second-fastest time in school history. Austin was a member of the team that ran the fastest time in program history earlier this year with a time of 3:10.96.
The loss of Austin had other teams “smelling blood in the water,” Master said, and made it extremely difficult for the Northwest men to come away with a title. The men had a team meeting in the hotel after the second day, in which Austin and Maddox among others, reminded the team they still had a shot.
The men, Masters said, would need big performances from many individuals to keep them on the podium. Senior Karim Achengli answered the call with a team-high 18 points, winning the 5,000-meter run with a time of 14:19.85 and placing second in the 3,000-meter run with an 8:20.8.
“I just had this feeling it was gonna be great,” Masters said about Achengli’s performance. “I had never seen him move that fast.”
Anchengli’s 5,000-meter heroics came shortly after Austin’s injury, which provided a jolt to the team’s morale in a time where the energy was rather anemic.
“Senior, a guy who’s been here, put the team on his back and said ‘Let’s go,’” Masters said.
Other bright spots for the men included Abdelrahim Mahgoub winning the 600-meter run with a time of 1:10.87, it was his first time running the race this season. Maddox was prophetic in his estimation of a surprise performance in the 600-meter run, one he made almost a full week prior to conference.
Aside from his powers for precognition, Maddox won the 800-meter run with a time of 1:52.99. Maddox described the race as strategic, allowing his experience as a 400-meter runner to separate him from the pack of athletes who are used to running in the mile.
“It really turned into a speed race at the end and me being a 400 runner, I have more footspeed than those guys,” Maddox said.
Maddox was also the vocal leader for the men’s team throughout the whole weekend, Masters said. His leadership, Masters added, proved invaluable to many competitors’ success, especially after Austin went down.
The men received points from 16 different athletes, excluding relays, which helped keep them in the top three. Still, the thought lingers with what could have been if Austin was healthy. Austin’s chances of competing at the Division II National Championships are uncertain.
“We could have lost a lot of other people and still won the meet, but when you lose Omar, it’s pretty tough to recover,” Masters said.
The finish for the Bearcat women was one Masters expected due to a lack of depth on the squad. The women relied heavily on seniors at conference. The senior women tallied 65 of the team’s 88 points.
“The effort, the leadership, the focus of that senior group is amazing,” Masters said. “It is unreal what these ladies did.”
Seniors Mercedes Isaacson-Cover and Audrey Wichmann led all scorers with 18 points. Wichmann won the high jump with a jump of 5 feet and 8 ¾ inches, which automatically qualified her for Division II Indoor Track and Field National Championships March 13-14 in Birmingham, Alabama. Wichhman also placed second in the pentathalon with a score of 3,682 points. Fellow senior Jordan Hammond followed closely behind with 17 points. Wichmann’s points were expected, Masters said, but Isaacson-Cover came as a little bit of a surprise.
Isaacson-Cover placed second in the long jump with a jump of 19 feet and 1 ¼ inch and first in the triple jump with a leap of 40 feet 3 ½ inches. Both jumps were provisional qualifiers for nationals.
“Mercedes is a gamer, she is the one that steps up to the plate with the bright lights on her,” Masters said.
Hammond was one of the many cheering Isaacson-Cover on during her winning performance and said the energy from the team helped Isaacson-Cover on her final jump, which was the leap that won her the event. Hammond also acknowledged that the team energy had a hand in her performance, in which she placed top six in three events.
Hammond placed second in the 60-meter hurdles 8.56, which was one millisecond of the winning pace. Hammond also finished third in the 60-meter dash with a time of 7.65 and sixth in the 200-meter posting a 24.91. Hammond ran the 60-meter hurdles and 60-meter dash finals back to back and both were personal records for her.
“Before this weekend she was not necessarily known as a 60-meter runner,” Masters said. “She’s a monster, she’s a workhorse.”
Hammond and company will head into nationals ranked top 5 in USTFCCCA and will have a shot at a national title. In terms of significance to Northwest, Masters has a high opinion of the 2019-2020 Bearcat women.
“I think you can call them one of the best teams in Northwest history,” Masters said.