March 10, 2010

John Oehser, Special to

Marcus Newsom's not giving up any names. Not this week, and not ever.

The subject of repeating won't come up, either

His Wartburg track team is successful for a lot of reasons, Newsom will tell you, but its team approach may be the biggest.

"You will never hear me mention one individual," Newsom said as the Knights prepared for the NCAA Division III Track and Field National Championships, held at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., on March 12-13.

"You cannot win the championship with one individual. That's been my approach my entire 17-year career, that you cannot win the national championship with one individual."

Fortunately, Wartburg need not try. Far from it.

Wartburg, the defending D-III national indoor and outdoor women's champion, is favored to win a second consecutive title because of a deep, versatile team, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, College of New Jersey and Wisconsin-Oshkosh each having a chance to push the Knights throughout the weekend.

On the men's side, Wisconsin-Oshkosh is favored, according to the seasonal results, with Wisconsin Stevens-Point and North Central (Ill.) College expected to challenge while Trinity (Texas) University men's team has the opposite feel of Wartburg's women - a chance at a Top 10 finish based largely on one versatile, high-placing athlete: senior pentathlete Todd Wildman.

But if Wartburg's success is a team thing, it's not as if it's not built on the strength of some capable, high-performing individuals - including Skye Morrison.

Morrison, a sophomore long jumper/triple jumper, recently was named the Iowa Conference women's track Most Valuable Performer, helping the Knights to an eighth consecutive indoor conference title. She has the top qualifying long jump (19 feet, 7 inches; 5.7 meters) and the third-best triple jump (38 feet, 9.5 inches; 11.82 meters) entering this weekend's national meet. She also set conference meet records in the long lump and triple jump, qualified for the national meet in the 400-meter dash, and is a member of the Knights' top-ranked 4x400 meter relay team (3:49.48) along with Chelsey Jacobs, Jenny Kordick and Nevada Morrison.

Faith Burt, also a sophomore, qualified for the 55-meter dash with the third-fastest qualifying time (7.07), and Nevada Morrison qualified with the third-fastest time in the 400 (56.71). Senior Anna Kraayenbrink qualified third in the 5,000 meters with a time of 17:06.21.

That depth and versatility is why the Knights are heavily favored to repeat, but it's not close to enough for Newsom to say Wartburg is guaranteed anything.

"Absolutely not," he said. "No matter what the rankings are, you still have to go and compete. I guess the rankings do show the body of work that the student-athlete has done leading up to the national championship, but it really has no bearing on the national championship at all. . . .

"There has not been one conversation about repeating," he added. "My dynamic is, 'Work on one meet at a time. Let's go one day at a time, one meet at a time and let's work to improve our performances. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.'

"I think a lot of times when you get ahead of yourself, that's when mistakes are made or anxiety sets in, or stress sets in about what's ahead."

Wisconsin Oshkosh, which tied for the men's indoor title with Wisconsin-LaCrosse a year ago, is a favorite again this season largely because of a deep, experienced roster that includes senior Ben Zill (second-fastest 400 qualifying time, 48.70), a contending 4x400-meter relay team of John Cejka, Alex DeWitt, Chris Lipke and Zill (second-fastest qualifying time, 3:17.59), senior James Simms in the triple jump (third-longest qualifying jump, 14.82 meters) and sophomore Ben Ludtke in the weight throw (best qualifying throw, 19.65 meters).

And one of the most intriguing stories to watch outside the perennial team powers is that of Wildman, who emerged as an elite contender last season as a junior, when he won the pentathlon with a Division III season-best score of 3,859, finished second in the high jump at 6-feet-9¾ and finished seventh in the 55-meter hurdles with a time of 7.70 seconds.

Wildman, whose father lettered in track at Texas and Oklahoma and whose brother was a decathlete at Wake Forest, turned in last year's performance under difficult circumstances. The hurdle finals last year were run about 20-25 minutes after the pentathlon finished, and the high jump began 45 minutes later.

Wildman's schedule is less compressed this season, with the pentathlon being held Friday morning, the 55-meter hurdle finals being held at 2:25 p.m. Saturday, and the high jump being held Saturday at 3:30 p.m. He has again qualified for all three events at the national meet, entering the meet with the second-fastest time in the 55-meter hurdles (7.5 seconds) and the best pentathlon score (3,876).

"The meet schedule sort of lines up right," Trinity track and field coach David Svoboda said. "He's capable of doing well on all three. Last year, he fought through it to have just a really special day. This year, the schedule looks easier.

"With the pentathlon on Day One, he'll have a couple of hours rest to do the hurdle prelims, then on Day Two he can focus on the hurdle finals and the high jump. We're excited about things being a little more spaced out this year for him."