DII notebook: Pittsburg State women's track and field team savors national title
Waiting for the conclusion of the women’s 1,600-meter relay at the NCAA Division II Women’s Track and Field National Championship on May 28 became the longest minute and 45 seconds of Cassie Caswell’s life.
A few hours earlier, Caswell did her part in Bradenton, Florida, to help Pittsburg State vault into first place at the national meet by finishing national runner-up in the shot put in her last collegiate competition.
“You go with everything you got,” Caswell said of competing on the final day of the national meet. “The energy is there, the energy from your teammates to encourage you to be the best you can.
“It was awesome. I haven’t had the best outdoor season marks. I was so happy to compete the way I competed. It was the only way I wanted to go out. It was the craziest competition I have been a part of.”
Caswell's finish got Pittsburg State rolling in the right direction. Coach Russ Jewett was feeling a roller-coaster of emotion from the time Pittsburg State competed in the shot put to two hours later in the 400 hurdles.
Pittsburg State compiled 52 points to move to first place with still a couple of events left. The team knew if St. Augustine finished first or second in the 1,600 relay, St Augustine was going to have a special day. St. Augustine men’s track and field team won the men’s title.
“It was a roller coaster of emotion for me,” Jewett said. “The women’s shot put started at 5:05 p.m. and the women’s 400 hurdles was at 7:30. That was our big scoring opportunity. It was pretty crazy.”
St. Augustine’s 1,600 relay team took fourth and that allowed Pittsburg State to edge out the Falcons by one point and win their first ever women’s outdoor track and field title.
“At first I wasn’t quite sure we won,” Caswell said. “I saw my teammates excited and I said ‘wow, we really did it.’ It was crazy. There was some part of me that wasn’t sure we could do it and we did it.”
Oh, what a lasting memory Caswell and all her teammates.
“It is the coolest feeling in the world,” Caswell said. “We all worked so hard. To know are names are forever etched in Pittsburg State history is something we are all excited about.”
Teamwork, support from the entire school and a sense of community all played a role.
“There is whole bunch of people that went into this team’s championship this year,” Jewett said. “Obviously, the student-athletes are at the top of the list. My assistant coaches are a big factor. Our leadership at Pitt State is a big factor, and the support we get from our community and alumni are all reasons for this championship.”
It has quite simply been a banner year for the Pittsburg State men’s and women’s track programs. In late February, Pittsburg State hosted the National Indoor Championships for men and women.
In men’s track, senior Garrett Appier won the indoor and outdoor national titles in the shot put while establishing new NCAA Division II records in the shot put. The program is being rewarded with national honors. Appier was selected NCAA Division II field athlete of the year while assistant coach Brian Mantooth, who coaches the throwing events, was selected Division II men’s national outdoor assistant of the year. Also, Jewett earned women’s national outdoor coach of the year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) on June 2.
“Anytime you bring a national championship home, it is a big deal, a feather in your cap,” Jewett said. “We are getting some exposure for our university and that can only be a good thing.
“Just hosting a national championship alone does great things for your institution and your athletic department. To have your women’s team get on the podium in the indoor championship (fourth place) at home was nice. The crowning achievement was the women’s outdoor championship.”
Indeed. Caswell will never forget it. She is confident younger members of the track team will produce more special moments in the future.
“What is so exciting is only two of us who were at nationals are graduating,” Caswell said. “So many of the girls aren’t just young, they are very young. They have so many opportunities to do big things in the coming years.”
St. Augustine’s dominance in track
St. Augustine men’s track and field team continued its dominance on the national level by winning its fourth straight title a week ago at the NCAA Division II Men’s Outdoor Track and Field National Championship.
Helping the Falcons to another national title was senior Burkheart Ellis Jr., who finished first in the 200 meter dash, took second in the 100 and was on the winning 400 relay team. For his effort, he was selected NCAA Division II Men’s Outdoor Track athlete of the year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) on June 2.
Head coach George Williams was selected Men’s Outdoor Track and Field coach of the year. He has earned this honor four straight years and five times in the last seven years.
Another notable performance
There is no better way to conclude a collegiate athletic career than to win a national title in record-breaking fashion.
That is what Azusa Pacific senior Allie Updike did in the women’s javelin at the NCAA Division II Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championship. Updike, the defending champion, broke her own meet record with a toss of 183-feet, 10-inches in the 2016 championships. The record-breaking toss came on her first throw at the national meet.
Updike now owns three of Division II’s top five throws all time.