Northwest indoor track and field will send seven athletes to Pittsburg, Kansas, for the NCAA Division II Indoor Championships March 8-9 on the heels of one of the most successful MIAA meets in recent history.
Competing in their own backyard at Hughes Fieldhouse Feb. 22-24 for the MIAA Championships, the Bearcats surprised much of the conference with a second-place finish for the men’s team and a sixth-place finish for the women.
Now, seven standouts will turn their attention to the national meet. The group, which includes five members of the men’s team and two of the women’s squad, is highlighted by freshman sprinter Omar Austin and senior athlete Kevin Schultz.
“We’re prepared,” coach Brandon Masters said. “The men are going to score a lot of points. I’m excited to see where we end up.”
In the week leading up to nationals, the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association named Austin the Central Region Indoor Track Athlete of the Year, while Schultz won the region’s Field Athlete of the Year award.
The duo fared well at the MIAA Championships, where Schultz won the men’s high jump, men’s heptathlon and was a part of the men’s first-place 4-x-400 relay team. Schultz will compete in all three events at nationals.
Austin, who anchored the men’s 4-x-400 all season, will compete in the relay as well as the men’s 200-meter and 400-meter races.
“It’s not common that you see that happen,” Masters said of the Schultz and Austin sweeping the USTFCCCA awards. “It’s a big award. We have a very powerful region, one of the best conferences in the country… it’s pretty amazing. The boys have done well. They deserved it.”
Along with Schultz and Austin, juniors Marcus Klein and Karim Achengli and sophomore Caelon Harkey will represent the men’s team at nationals. Klein will run the first leg in the 4-x-400 relay and participate in the long jump, while Achengli will run the 5,000-meter race. Harkey will run the second leg of the men’s 4-x-400 relay.
On the women’s team, junior Mercedes Isaacson-Cover will compete in the triple jump and the long jump while junior Jordan Hammond will compete in the pentathlon and the 60-meter hurdles.
For Schultz, this trip to nationals will represent the last chance to compete in indoor track at the collegiate level. For Austin, this meet is, in some ways, just the beginning.
“I feel like this is just the start of my freshman year,” Austin said. “I still got nationals; I can see what I can do there. I still got outdoor season. I feel like outdoor season is going to be the best season; that’s when you (should) make sure y’all look at me. Outdoor season is where I’m going to really turn up.”
Austin, who holds the ninth-fastest 400-meter time in Division II history at 46.49, said this indoor season has just been a preview into his capabilities.
“I feel like this is a great start freshman year,” Austin said. “I feel like by the end of my senior year I should be in the Olympics for sure.”
As the seven athletes wrap up Northwest’s indoor season, Masters said the group is completely focused on results. Time and splits, Masters said, don’t matter in the final meet of the year, just the team’s ability to compete.
“The biggest expectation is to compete well and finish better than (each) ranking,” Masters said. “Nothing matters other than places at this point. This is the end. This is the championship.”