Going for gold
Top DIII schools vie for national championship
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- After all of the meets and all the success Chip Schneider has enjoyed during his thirteen years as the head coach of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s men’s track and field team, a national championship has always eluded him.
Indoor and outdoor, the results were always the same.
Close, but not quite close enough.
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“I think our goals are pretty high,” Schneider said. “We’d like to win a national title with the men, for sure, if things go well. The goal is always to at least get out of the weekend with a top-four [finish] and to bring home a trophy. It’d be nice if that trophy was gold.
“It would definitely be historical for our school. We’ve finished second three times between indoor and outdoor national championships with our seniors on the men’s side, so they know what silver looks like. We’d really like to see what the other side of it looks like, too.”
Ranked first in the final USTFCCCA Division III poll going into this week’s meet, it would appear that Schneider and the Blugolds have as good a shot as any. To win it all, they’ll have to get by fellow Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference powerhouse Wisconsin-La Crosse, among a good many others.
Wisconsin-La Crosse boasts seventeen indoor track and field national championships, including the last two. Competing against that kind of dominance makes its WIAC schedule seem like a national championship meet every week for the in-state rivals.
To finally get that gold trophy would be quite the accomplishment.
“It’d be pretty special, I’m not going to lie,” Schneider continued. “I’m definitely a coach that believes wins and losses aren’t the most important thing, but I also believe if you’re going to do something, you might as well try to win. I know we have the people in place to do it.
“I’ve been here for thirteen years now. When I took the job, I had some people tell me they didn’t think in this conference that I would ever be in the top spot and definitely not in the nation. I would like to prove people wrong this weekend. It would definitely be the highlight of my coaching career.”
Schneider continues, trying to put what it would mean into perspective. It’s all about this amazing team that will be competing here this week, but …
“It doesn’t matter to me if we win or lose,” he insists. “It’s still going to be one of the best, if not the best, teams I’ve ever coached. It’s just a great bunch of kids that work their tails off. I would like to see it more for them than myself.”
The veteran coach pauses for a moment, then adds, “I’m not going to not lift [the national championship trophy] up above my head if we get it, that’s for sure.”
The Eagles of Wisconsin-La Crosse know all about trophies, gold especially. The twenty-nine national championships won by the men’s indoor and outdoor track and field teams are an NCAA Division III record. Winning is a part of the culture at Wisconsin-La Crosse, so much so that the track team’s slogan of “Building Champions, In Sport, In School, In Life” has been adopted by the athletic program as a whole.
It’s everywhere … on scoreboards, walls, field house and in the gym. That’s not to say, however, that the national championship trophy has already been engraved with the school’s name. It can’t be, not with teams like Wisconsin-Eau Claire breathing down its neck.
Wisconsin-Eau Claire ranks first in the nation going into the meet, Wisconsin-La Crosse second.
“We still have to compete at the meet,” said Josh Buchholtz, the Eagles’ men’s track and field head coach. “They don’t just hand the trophy out beforehand. We have to earn it during the competition. I feel good. I feel very confident our coaching staff and our support staff here have put these young men in position where they’re going to be successful.
“Now, it’s on them. On them to see what kind of internal fortitude they may have. They all believe in their commitment that they’ve made to their training. We’re shooting for a national title. When we break the huddle at the end, hopefully, we’re hoisting that trophy.”