The rankings are final. The tables are set. The best of Division II Men’s Track and Field are headed to Birmingham, Alabama this weekend to determine who will reign supreme.
Athletes from nearly 80 Division II schools will square off this weekend. While finalist stalwarts St. Augustine’s and Adams State are very much in the hunt, this year sees three of the top five seeds looking for thier first taste of a national championship.Findlay enters the weekend as top dogs after jumping into the No. 1 slot in the final rankings. GLIAC Field Athlete of the Year senior Justin Welch is the highest profiled name on their team.
Welch is the top seeded weight thrower, as well as a shot putter. His partner in crime is Taylor Miller who is the leader in shot put. The Oilers will send the third most entrants to the championships with 13.
They are heavy in the field events, with only two entrants and a relay team represented in the track events. They appear geared up to take home their first National Championship.
Findlay is no stranger to the No. 2 team in the country. Its GLIAC rivals Grand Valley State enter the tournament with 15 entrants, the most of any team this weekend.
The Lakers come into Birmingham on the heels of winning their sixth consecutive GLIAC championship, where 3,000-meter runner Bryce Bradley set a GLIAC record. Like Findlay, they are looking for their first championship.
Unlike many of the other teams competing this weekend who seem to be athlete heavy in either the track or field events, the Lakers lead a level attack across the board. Of their 15 entrants, 7 are in track events while 8 are in field. This could be the year that coach Jerry Baltes breaks through to take home the elusive title.
“Findlay has some great top end talent in their program as does other programs such as Adams State and Ashland on the men’s side so a championship is going to be tough to come by,” Baltes said.
“No doubt we have a shot and I think it will come down to which squad competes at the highest level and takes advantage of the opportunities in front of them. If we can be ready to compete and take advantage of the opportunities over both days anything can happen.”
No. 3 Adams State, the lone top five team that does not hail from the GLIAC, heads into the weekend’s competition led by the South Central Region and RMAC Track Athlete of the Year, Kevin Batt who is tops in the 3,000-meter this year.
It is the second consecutive year Batt has taken home the award. They enter the meet with four No. 1 seeds amongst the track events, the most of any team participating. With only three participants in the field events this weekend, the Grizzlies will be relying heavily on their distance runners.
Adams State has the top three milers in the nation with Matt Daniels (who is also tops in the 5,000 meters) and Oliver Aitchison ahead of Batt in the rankings. The three join Austin Anaya in forming the nation’s best Distance Medley Relay team.
Fourth-seeded Ashland comes to Birmingham also looking for its first title. It will send the second most participants with 14. Unlike the Grizzlies, the Eagles will rely heavily upon their arms with nine throwers in the weekend’s competition, including seven in the weight throw. Their track team is lead by senior Drew Windle, who is the top seed in the 800-meter.Rounding out the top five is yet another member of the GLIAC. Tiffin will be led into action this weekend by the Midwest Region Coach of the Year Jeremy Croy. Croy’s Dragons set four GLIAC records this season.
Much of that rests on the shoulders of sophomore Lamar Hargrove. Widely considered the best sprinter in the nation at the DII level, Hargrove set the national record in the 200 en route to winning the Midwest Region Men’s Track Athlete of the Year. Altogether, the Dragons have 10 entries in the meet.
Despite landing out of the top five, one always has to keep an eye on the St. Augustine Falcons. Head Coach George Williams, the Atlantic Region Men’s Head Coach of the Year, has led the Falcons to the last two consecutive titles and has a combined seven since the calendar turned to the new millennium.
This year’s No. 7 seed, the Falcons have 10 entrants, mostly in the jumps (led by the Atlantic Region Men’s Field Athlete of the Year and the nation’s top DII Triple Jumper senior David Shaw, Jr) and sprints (led by the Track Athlete of the Year junior Omar Johnson).
In what Williams called somewhat of a “down season”, the reigning champs are a bit of an underdog for the first time in a while.
“We play some great teams in Division II with a lot of strong teams coming over from the NAIA. It get’s tougher each and every year,” Williams said.
“We never go to a championship thinking we are going to win. Whatever team wins, it it’s not us, we will be glad to see someone else win. We just want to see good track. I’ll tell you one thing. We’re not just going to lay down, we’re going to bring our best.”
Minnesota State-Mankato, who dropped to No. 9 from the seventh slot that the Falcons jumped into, is also worth keeping an eye on this weekend. Central Region Coach of the Year Jim Dilling and Assistant Coach of the Year Chris Parno are entering this weekend after wrapping up their fourth consecutive Northern Sun Intercollegiate Association Indoor Championship.
Although they only have five entrants, they are led by the Central Region Track Athlete of the Year, sophomore Myles Hunter. Coming off his NSIC Newcomer of the Year Award last season, Hunter owns the 60 meter hurdles record. He is joined by senior Emmanuel Matadi, the nation’s best 60 meter runner, who will be making his first championship appearance.