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Rick Houston | | August 7, 2014

Houston: Raiders roar

  Junior Sean Donnelly followed up national titles in the shot put and hammer throw.

DELAWARE, Ohio -- The look on Sean Donnelly’s face said all that needed to be said about Mount Union and this year’s NCAA Division III outdoor track and field national championships.

Standing on the bottom row of the bleachers, the young man watched intently as teammates Tyler Mettille, Tyler Sparks, Chase Swisher and Chad Gentry readied for the meet’s final race -- the men’s 4x400-meter relay. The same four student-athletes won the event’s national indoor championship, but this was another day.

Only a handful of points separated the Raiders and Wisconsin-La Crosse, the team most probably would’ve considered as favorites coming into the meet. Twenty-eight men’s track and field championship trophies in all; a sweep of the indoor and outdoor title in 2013; another indoor crown in March; twenty-three competitors qualified for this meet -- the numbers didn’t lie. If there’s a DIII Goliath, Wisconsin-La Crosse is it.

Donnelly had already won individual titles in the hammer throw on Thursday and in shot put Friday, which helped put Mount Union in position to win it all. The school’s 4x400 runners pulled out a win to seal the championship, and Donnelly responded by bellowing the bellow of a champion.

Later, there were tears in his eyes as the emotion of the moment caught up to him.

“Sean Donnelly is a big one,” Kevin Lucas said, Mount Union’s head coach. “Sean had a little over six-meter PR in the hammer throw to win the championship there. He brought home the shot put title. And, honestly, he came into the discus and picked up seventh place, when he was the last guy into the meet. That probably speaks volumes to his character and his competitive spirit.”

With just 10 competitors at Ohio Wesleyan, this was a little team that accomplished huge things this week. Gerardo Vargas was seventh in the pole vault. Mettille took third in the 400 hurdles. Chase Swisher ran the 400-meter event for the very first time a couple of weeks ago, and took home a sixth-place finish Saturday.

Andrew Shrewsbury, Swisher, Mettille and Gentry took fifth in the 4x100-meter relay out of Lane 1.

Going into that last race, Lucas laughed and admitted, “I’m not going to lie, I was about ready to throw up in the stands.”

“Basically, we had to beat Wisconsin-La Crosse in order to win the meet,” Lucas added, who is in his fifth year at the school located in Alliance, Ohio, 130 miles or so away. “But I had a lot of faith in our guys, and I knew they’d won it indoors. There was no reason to think they couldn’t win it outdoors.”

They could, and they did. At long last, the championship was a done deal. When it would all sink in, Lucas simply could not say.

“It’s one of those things were we thought if we had a solid meet and put together good performances, we’d at least be in the team standings,” he said. “But never in a million years did I think that we would be at the top of the awards stand.”

In the end, one thing mattered most. The Raiders believed in themselves.

“La Crosse is pretty deep,” Lucas concluded. “They have a lot of people here at the national meet. With us bringing ten guys here, we had to pretty much be flawless in order to get them. We weren’t flawless, but some guys stepped up who definitely weren’t supposed to score us points according to the rankings. They believed, and that’s all that really matters. Looking at it, we probably weren’t supposed to do what we did.”

The school’s football program has a rich heritage that dates back to the 1800s, and while the track program has been “pretty good” over the years, never before had it won a national championship.

That ended late Saturday afternoon.

“Certainly at Mount Union, you see championships,” Lucas said. “To be able to win one in track is just outstanding. There’s been, I think, two coaches in the past 56 years at Mount Union on the men’s side and I’m the third. The tradition and history there is rooted pretty deep.”

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