WAVERLY, Iowa - On a day when little relief was offered from sweltering weather conditions, the North Central College men's track and field team showed its ability to prepare and persevere to achieve success on the first day of the 2016 NCAA Division III Outdoor Championships at Wartburg College on Thursday.

The No. 1-ranked Cardinals lead the field with 14 points, getting 10 in the first event of the day as Luke Winder avoided a self-induced mishap and completed a sweep of the indoor and outdoor national titles in the pole vault for the second consecutive year. 

With the temperatures well into the 80s, Winder held off his entry into the competition until the bar had been raised to 5.20 meters (17 feet, 3/4 inch) and only two other competitors remained in Johns Hopkins University's Andrew Bartnett and the University of Mount Union's Tyler Orewiler. 

"We wanted to make sure to open up a little bit higher," Winder said. "I didn't come here to jump 5.05 or 5.15. Obviously, I came here to win. Opening up at 5.20, I guess, is a little bit risky at a national championship, but I've done it about four times this year. It was more energy management than anything."

The strategy nearly backfired, as his first two attempts were unsuccessful. Taking the runway for a make-or-break third attempt, Winder cleared with room to spare and sealed the championship with his next vault, sailing over the bar at 5.30 meters (17'4 1/2") on his first attempt. The Cardinals were also represented in the event by Dylan Kuipers and Spencer LaHaye. Both cleared 15'3", with Kuipers tying for 17th placing and LaHaye tying for 19th.

"There really weren't too many nerves (entering the third attempt)," Winder recalled. "It was more frustration with myself. I shouldn't have been in that position but I put myself in it. It was 100 percent my fault, but we got through it and ended up coming away with a national title."

Winder relished the opportunity to help set the tone for his team, which aims to be in the hunt to top the team standings at the end of the weekend.

"I've always appreciated being able to go first, because I think that brings the energy up for everybody else," he said. "It's cool that we're in a race for a national title as a team, and it'll be interesting to see how it pans out, and it was a real blessing to have two teammates in the vault competition with me."

Also climbing the awards podium for North Central Thursday was Zach Plank, who placed fifth in a 10,000-meter run that was run at a particularly conservative pace early on in response to the heat. Spending much of the middle portion of the race in eighth or ninth place, Plank called upon his training and hung tough before moving up through the field late in the race and hitting the finish line in 31 minutes, 13.57 seconds.

"I just really tapped into what we've been doing as a team all season, which is training for that part of the race when it's hard and it hurts," Plank said. "I just found myself being in the workouts that we do, like Blackwell and Four Lakes, and those hurt more than what I was doing today, so that helped propel me to where I finished.

"Luckily, I've been preparing for this kind of weather all week. I started hydrating on Monday, knowing it was going to be hot. I didn't let it get to me, and I felt strong the whole race."

The rest of the competing North Central athletes on Thursday were involved in preliminary heats for finals to be contested on Saturday. The first to hit the track was Aron Sebhat, who ran in what turned out to be the far faster of two heats in the 1,500-meter run. Sebhat, who holds the Cardinals' outdoor records at 1,500 and 800 meters, finished fifth in his heat in 3:49.09, but also turned out to have the fifth-fastest time in the entire field and secured a spot in the 12-man final.

Ethan Adlfinger reserved his place in Saturday's 3,000-meter steeplechase final, finishing in 9:12.66 to secure the fifth and final automatic qualifying position in his heat. The Cardinals were also represented in the steeplechase by Dan O'Keefe (18th overall, 9:29.10) and Ken Hoffman (20th, 9:49.84).
North Central also made the finals field in the last preliminary event of the day, the 4-by-400-meter relay. Entering the meet with a qualifying time of 3:14.02, the Cardinals' team of Daniel Spaccapaniccia, Ben Nordman, Zach Kirby and Peyton Piron had run faster than only two of the other 15 teams at the meet. The quartet was able to turn in a season-best time of 3:12.77, eighth-fastest in school history and good enough for the final qualifying position in Saturday's final.