The Findlay Oilers entered the Birmingham CrossPlex this weekend as the top dogs in DII men's track and field. With 10 of their 13 entrants appearing in field categories, they would have to make every last one count.
Justin Welch made sure that happened.Welch -- Findlay’s senior weight thrower and shot putter -- entered Friday evening’s contest as the No. 1 seed in Division II. He would face off against 16 fellow weight thrower’s gunning for his title. Ten of those weight throwers would be GLIAC rivals. Seven Ashland Eagles, three Grand Valley State Lakers and Welch would face off in a familiar battle. Did that make the number one seed feel like an underdog based on our numbers alone?
“I was more calm because I have been competing against these guys all season,” Welch said. “It was just like any other meet because you're right there against everyone you have seen all season.”
Ashland needed to make its mark in the event. The Eagles sent 14 entrants, the second most amongst the men, to Birmingham. Nine were throw entrants, seven of which were in this event. If the fourth seeded Eagles wanted to have a chance at the championship, they had to make their mark there and come out ahead in the weight throw.
It didn’t turn out that way. In a disappointing preliminaries, senior Zac Bell was the only one of the seven to escape to the final round. All three GVSU throwers (Blake Donson seeded ninth, Darien Thornton in sixth and Jay Lechner in fifth) would advance to the final round. Welch? He went out and set a Birmingham CrossPlex site record by launching it 22.07 meters.“I wasn’t expecting it,” said Welch. “I wasn’t even sure what the record was. That was actually my third throw in prelims after having two fouls so that kind of surprised me that it went that far.”
Though setting the site record, Welch still fell 3 meters short of Kibwe Johnson’s (Ashland) 2007 tournament record. It wasn’t an easy task, despite a new record as the other finalists would bring it in the final round, seemingly getting stronger as the event progressed. But it wouldn’t stop Welch from taking home the title.
Thornton, who entered the event as the No. 2 seed, tossed his first throw 20.34 meters and followed it up with a 21.38 toss after struggling in the preliminaries. Ball did all he could to carry the Eagles on his back, but would fall short. Ball topped out at 21.12 to grab the third place finish. Adam Barr, a junior from Lewis, surprised most people with a fourth place finish of 20.62, but he too couldn’t stop the nation’s top dog. Welch did what he had to do and emerged triumphant.
Saturday, Welch leads Findlay into the shot put. He will join his teammate -- and No. 1 seed -- Taylor Miller and three other Oilers in their attempt to seal the deal for top-ranked Findlay. After four years of competing in the field together, have they formed a little in-house rivalry in their competition?
“Not really,” Welch said. “We’re good friends. We really both want each other to do well. He’s the shot put guy and I’m the weight guy. I just happened to get lucky and make it into the shot.”
Findlay has never won a men’s indoor track and field championship in the school’s history. This year, they are the closest they have ever been in doing so. How badly do Welch and his fellow seniors want to be the ones to say they were the class that brought home that elusive, yet coveted, title?
“Pretty badly,” Welch laughed. “There has been slight talk about it all season, especially in the last couple of weeks. More and more people have been talking about it, and it’s been being brought up a lot more. If we could do it, it would be pretty special. No one would have expected that out of us last year, but all of a sudden this year, we’ve given ourselves the chance to do it.”