The Central Missouri Jennies track and field team caught lightning in a bottle last season. Fresh off the heels of the Mid-Atlantic Intercollegiate Athletic Association Women’s Indoor conference title, UCM rode the momentum all the way to Birmingham where they would capture their first Women’s National Indoor Championship in the program’s history. A few months later, they would continue their run, taking home their first Outdoor National title.
“We consider ourselves to have a strong program,” co-head coach Kip Janvrin said. “Traditionally we have been better on the men’s side than the women’s side. To be honest, I never thought we could be a team that could be good enough at the top to win a national title. I thought we were more geared to conference titles being a more well rounded team and having that depth.
“What we had last year was some very talented young ladies that were scoring points at the top of the events. It was a trademark season for us, maybe something we may not be able to accomplish again. But we have to strive to maintain that right now. It was a coaching pinnacle for sure.”
Both titles saw exciting finishes that went right down to the wire. Starting in Birmingham at the indoor championships, the Jennies saw an thrilling finale that started their monumental 2015 run. Erika Kinsey was nearly simultaneously competing for two individual championships — the high jump and long jump — that would forever change the course of UCM history.
”The triple jump points had not been posted yet, the high jump was going on, the 3K was getting ready to run and then the mile relay,” Janvrin recollected the whirlwind that the close of last year’s meet was. “It got kind of crazy. We went from not even being in the top ten to knowing we were going to win in a matter of 20 minutes. As a coach who had never won a national title and with a big crew of fans down there, that realization that we were going to do it was pretty exciting for the whole crew.”
This year the Jennies prepare a new -- and different -- story in their track and field annals. It starts with their Multipurpose Building, their home court for hosting meets. The newest National Champs saw a big upgrade to their home facility, and the new features only make for better competition.
“We have a brand new indoor track,” Janvrin said. “It’s a very beautiful surface, it’s much better for training and competition. We got a new pole vault pit. It is nice, it feels like we got a fresh new start with all new things which makes it more exciting to get into the season.”
The team is also a bit younger. Erika Kinsey -- who wound up taking both of those individual championships on her record setting day in Birmingham -- has gone pro. Other key seniors that provided depth — like Zoe Sharplin — have moved on. Despite being ranked No. 4 in the preseason USTFCCCA poll, Janvrin knows to temper expectations with a newer team this season.
“From a coaching stand point we know that right now we are not near the team we were a year ago,” Janvrin said. “I think that most of the athletes realize that. We lost two really strong multi-event girls, Erika turned pro and we lost an All-American distance runner. We’re not that team.
“But we still have some good bullets. We got two girls that won outdoor national titles that are returning. It’s an uphill battle, it may be a little bit of a letdown for everybody, but everybody has their goals they are trying to accomplish. We’re going to coach them the same way and have our kids perform their best when it matters.”
One big difference is that Janvrin has been getting both the Men’s and Women’s team prepared short handed. Janvrin and is co-head coach Kirk Pedersen have been at the helms togethers for nearly two decades. Janvrin had to start this off this winter season by himself as Pedersen has been working his way back from a rough Fall.
“Kirk had two heart attacks and a stroke,” Janvrin said of Pederson. “He’s recovering and getting back to practice a little bit. It’s made things very tough not having him around to enjoy our success.”
It is certainly promising that Pedersen is getting back into the swing of things and returning to good health. Despite a different mindset heading into the 2015-2016 season as reigning national champions, Janvrin knows his team is still chock full of individual stars.
Brittany Kallenberger is one of the big names to watch for on this Jennies squad. She won an outdoor national title last year in the pole vault. Janvrin feels that, “she’s going to jump way better than she did a year ago and we are excited about what she’s got going on.”
Heavin Warner is a two-time outdoor individual national champion in the hammer throw, and “continues to get stronger and is expected to do a lot bigger things as well,” Janvrin explained. Victoria Jackson, UCM’s multi-event athlete who has competed in hurdles, pentathlons, and the javelin “looks phenomenal right now,” according to Janvrin. Haley Heuer is someone Janvrin is looking to to step up and do good things, while seasoned thrower, Heuer has improved every year and is on the verge of a big season. Janvrin also pointed to Nikki Douglas — their senior hurdler — as a key cog who has made significant progress.
“We have some very good pieces and talented young ladies,” Janvrin said, “but I don’t know that we have depth to make a major impact at the national championships like last year.”
The Jennies may have a tougher road back to the national championships than they had last year. They had the perfect blend of top notch talent and depth to score points across several categories. That being said, UCM is still projected to win the MIAA for the upcoming indoor season, and that certainly is no easy feat in itself.
“Our conference is ridiculously good,” Janvrin said. “It continues to get better and better with more quality athletes and the coaches continuing to do great jobs.”
The MIAA is so stacked that predictability is simply not commonplace. Take a look back at last year’s championships, for example. The MIAA conference meet saw Pittsburg State rise victorious with UCM finishing second and Lincoln coming in right behind them. Later at the Outdoor National Championships, the top five national finishers were filled with MIAA teams, except it was the opposite of what had been seen earlier. This time, UCM rose the victor with Lincoln finishing second and Pittsburgh State coming in fifth.
“Pitt State is well rounded, and they are going to have good athletes in all areas,” Janvrin said. "They are going to be hard to beat. Lincoln has added some kids that are very talented that are going to be All Americans and vie for national titles. They have enough quality bodies to contend for a national title.”
The Jennies opened things up at the Pittsburg State Crimson and Gold Invitational this past Thursday. The vaulters were led by Kallenberger, who took second in the event. Next up for the Jennies is the Doane College Happy Holiday Multi meet.
“It is a good opportunity for our good kids to hopefully get a qualifying meet early on,” Janvrin said. “For our young kids its a chance for me to learn about them and gives them a chance to learn about themselves.”
So while it may be a new year and while there may be new girls ready to climb the ranks of Jennies track and field lore, their unified goal remains the same.
“Our goal every year is to win a conference title,” Janvrin said. “It may be an unrealistic goal this year, so we talk about making progress, performing at a higher level than we did last year and getting better every day. For our ten or so kids that have the opportunity to qualify for the national meet, that’s their goal. So let’s get that mark that’s going to get them to the national meet and let’s go there and perform at that level.”
UCM heads to Christmas break after the Happy Holiday meet and will reconvene to prepare for the UCM Invitational on January 22nd. It kicks off the challenging run the Jennies will have through the MIAA and hopefully a trip back to the national championships.
“It is a little bit different,” Janvrin said. “Last year we talked about winning national titles and that was our focus. It’s a harder situation this year, but we got to get the kids motivated to be the best they can be. If they can go out there and do that, well then we have been successful as coaches.”