JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During a weekend that saw Lipscomb track and field athletes earn numerous individual accolades, one of the biggest feats came from the team as a whole.
Both the men’s and women’s teams finished third in overall points at the Atlantic Sun Outdoor Championships, the highest finish ever for the women and tied for the highest for the men.
"For the men this meet was one of our best ever,” Lipscomb Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Bill Taylor said. “For the women it was the best ever. For both it was the most exciting Atlantic Sun Championships we've ever had. Thrilling races, unexpected wins and All-A-Sun finishes, some dominating performances. It was a really fun meet.
"Just as important, these two teams competed their hearts out. They ran for each other, they ran for Lipscomb, they ran for God. Across the board, everyone fought and we are so proud of both teams.”
The top eight places in the women’s events and the top six in the men’s earn points for their respective teams. The top three finishers in each event earn All-Conference honors.
Just as it was in day one of the Championships, the women’s distance events provided several highlights for the Purple and Gold.
In the women’s 5000m, Madi Talbert (16:37.40), Paige Stoner (16:38.20), and Sally Larson (16:59.83) earned a Bison sweep of the top three spots.
"It was really fun to pull off the sweep in the women's 5000m,” Taylor said. “Paige led almost the whole race. Madi outkicked her to take the win. Sally rallied late in the race to move into third in the last lap to secure the 1-2-3 finish for us. That was really fun.”
On the men’s side, there was almost a second sweep as Jared Wingerter (14:38.90), Christian Freeman (14:42.05), and Juan Gonzalez (14:44.57) finished second, third and fourth. Daniel Gardner came in seventh with a time of 14:50.2.
"The men's 5000m was equally exciting,” Taylor said. “We had four men in the lead pack of seven. All seven were together with a lap to go. Juan had led almost the whole race, with Christian taking a few laps.
“With a lap to go, suddenly Jared Wingerter moved up from about 6th place to take the lead. Northern Kentucky's JJ Webber responded and the two sprinted side by side for most of the final 300m, before Webber pulled slightly ahead of Jared. Christian and Juan finished in third and fourth.”
Wingerter’s second place win was unexpected, as he had the third fastest time in the event con the team coming into the meet.
"Jared really surprised us,” Taylor said. “He had been floating at the end of the lead pack, and has the third fastest time on our team. But Jared is a gamer. He's always big in the biggest races. We can always count on him, and he certainly threw it all out there tonight.”
Gonzalez pulled double duty on Saturday. He also ran in the 1500m, coming in third with a time of 3:51.19.
"Juan was so tough today,” Taylor said. “He finished third in a very close race in the 1500m. He led almost the whole thing. Then he turned around and led most of the 5000m.
“He was trying to get the times to qualify for the NCAA Division I National Prelims. That's so hard to do in a Championship race. Nobody wants to push the pace. They are tactical races. People are tired. He did everything he could to make it happen anyway, and though he didn't get the times he wanted, he showed courage and desire out there.”
The field events provided more wins for Lipscomb.
The Bisons swept the men’s and women’s javelin events with both Karly Hibbard (42.54m) and Nelson Scott (51.78) earning first place finishes.
"We had some amazing performances in the field events,” Taylor said. “Karly's win in the women's javelin was expected. She has been leading that event most of the year. Still, it's hard to come out and defend like that, especially as a freshman. She competed really hard and earned that victory.”
Following Scott on the men’s side were James Tamburello and Joe Sanderson in third and fourth with marks of 44.86m and 44.66m respectively.
"On the men's side we got a nice surprise,” Taylor said. “Nelson was not the A-Sun leader coming in. He really had a great day and took that title. amburello also stepped up big for third, as did Joe in fourth.”
Freshman Grayson Webber took home the A-Sun crown in the discus with a winning throw of 48.81m.
"Grayson, like Karly, came into the meet with the A-Sun lead, and like Karly, had to defend that lead as a freshman,” Taylor said. “Also like Karly, he stepped up big and won the men's discus.”
In the high jump, Gemikal Prude finished in second place with a leap of 2.08m.
"Gemikal had a great series of jumps today,” Taylor said. “He earned All-Conference honors yet again in the high jump with his second place finish.”
Annika Backlund took second place in the pole vault with a mark of 3.81m.
Back on the track, the sprinters had a successful day as well.
"In the men's 800m the guys really stepped up big,” Taylor said. “I think all of them ran personal records or season bests. Danny Marsh stepped up in the outdoor championship just like he did in the indoor championship, surprising the field with an attacking performance and earning All-Conference honors with a third place finish.”
Marsh finished with a time of 1:53.35.
Alex Berry earned All-Conference in the 400m with a mark of 48.65 to take third place.
The 4x400m relay team, made up of Marsh, Berry, Brian Gentry and Kenny Smith, finished third after running a 3:16.38.
"The men's 4x400m relay was a perfect finish to this meet,” Taylor said. “The men fought so hard, and it came down to the final leg with four teams all together. Only three can be All-Conference. Brian Gentry ran the race of his life, splitting 47.5, which is by far his fastest 400m ever, to move the men into third in the final 50 meters.”
Wayne Newman sat out of the meet with an ongoing hamstring injury. Based on his previous times, the sophomore would have had a chance to win the 110m high hurdles and the 400m hurdles. The team is hoping he will be healthy enough to compete at the East Region Prelims.
The Bisons finished with a treasure trove of honors after the dust settled on Saturday, including over 20 All-Conference performers and several records set.
"At the end of the day, the women scored the most points in school history and earned a third place team finish, which is the highest team finish in school history. The men finished third to tie their best ever finish,” Taylor said. “We came away with six individual conference championships, 23 All-Conference honors, a new NCAA Division I National Championship Preliminary round qualifier, a top 10 national performance, an A-Sun record, two school records and more personal records than I can count. That's a terrific two days of work.”
Several Bisons may qualify for the NCAA Division I East Region Preliminaries that take place in Jacksonville on May 28-30. The team will find out for sure who qualified on Wednesday once every conference has posted their results.
Madi Talbert (3000m steeplechase and 5000m), Paige Stoner (3000m steeplechase and 5000m), Gemikal Prude (high jump), Wayne Newman (110m high hurdles), and Karly Hibbard (javelin) all have posted marks that should qualify.
Sally Larson (5000m and 10,000m), Juan Gonzalez (5000m or 1500m), Christian Freeman (3000m steeplechase), and Barbara Lee Ball (10,000m) all have the potential to qualify as well.