Photo Caption: Ashland University sophomore Drew Windle raises his arms in celebration after destroying the field in the men’s 800 meter run at the Indoor Nationals. Windle won his first two national championships within two hours of each other and was named 2013 National Indoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year. A total of 10 AU athletes claimed national championships at the National Championship Festival held in Birmingham, Ala.
Set aside the speed at which they can run or swim, the distances that they can throw and the heights they can vault and jump. Forget about all of that stuff for a second.
College athletes are amazing. They have all of the classes and commitments as most regular students, and then they have more: morning practice, class, afternoon practice, dinner, homework, sleep, repeat. The stress and monotony of it all can be overwhelming and downright awful.
All of these athletes—over 100,000 compete at the Division II level—do all of that in search of one thing: a national championship. They all have the dream of lifting a trophy and being able to say that no one in the United States of America (or Simon Fraser University in Canada) is better than them at what they do.
When all of the events were over and the dust had settled at the Division II National Championship Festival in Birmingham, Ala. on March 9, 10 Ashland athletes had accomplished that feat.
The first to get their hands on a first-place trophy were seniors Julie Widmann and Rachel Ausdenmoore, junior Gaby Verdugo-Arzaluz and freshman Kaylyn Murphy. The quartet won the women’s 200-yard freestyle relay at the national swim meet March 7.
Widmann started things off with a 50-yard split of 22.60 seconds, which was her fastest time ever and just .04 off the national record.
“I really needed that because that was the only way that our relay was gonna do well was if we all went best times,” Widmann said.
Murphy (22.76) and Ausdenmoore (22.43) kept that advantage before Verdugo-Arzaluz (23.41) jumped in the pool for the final leg, touching the wall for a final time of 1:32.20, which was 0.49 seconds faster than Wayne State.
For Widmann, it was her 23rd NCAA trophy and the fourth national title (three relays, one individual) of her storied career. In four years, she was recognized as an All-American in 27 events.
She has more experience with the feeling of winning a national championship trophy than any other current AU athlete.
“There’s a shelf at my house and we put them up and just to look at that is really a sense of gratification because I can just take a deep breath and know that I did something at college that I’m really proud of,” Widmann said.
At this year’s meet she took second in the 50 freestyle and the 100 backstroke and was on relay teams that finished fifth in the 100 freestyle (Long, Ausdenmoore, Murphy), fifth in the 200 medley relay (freshman Elizabeth Long, Ausdenmoore, Murphy), 12th in the 400 medley relay (junior Sara Reidler, freshman Hannah Mattar, Murphy) and 12th in the 400 freestyle relay (Murphy, Ausdenmoore, Verdugo-Arzaluz).
Later that night, fifth-year senior Richard Quick realized his dream of winning the national championship in the weight throw.
His first throw of the night flew 68-feet, 3.25-inches, and after two heats and the championship final round nobody had topped it.
“It actually felt easy,” Quick said. “I haven’t had a throw feel like that in over a year.”
The mark was over four feet further than those of second-place Ryan Smith from the University of Indianapolis and Ashland senior Garret Grey, who each threw 64-feet, 10-inches. Grey lost the tiebreaker and finished third.
The Eagles also took fifth place with the 63-foot throw by sophomore Zac Ball. That put Ashland on top of the men’s team standings by 12 points at the end of the first day and made a statement to the rest of the field.
The performance by the throwers inspired the rest of the team, including senior pole-vaulter Katie Nageotte.
“It was so motivating and inspiring watching them the first day and just realizing that it could be anybody’s day,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you were ranked coming in.”
Nageotte was ranked first and she too brought a national title to Ashland on March 8 with a vault of 13-feet, 11.25-inches. There was some drama at the final height (14-feet, 3.25-inches) when she was the first person up on her last attempt and missed.
Fortunately, the standards were not set when she was told to go and the official came running over and said that the vault would not count. Nageotte was told she could go again right away or wait until the other competitors had made their attempts.
She chose to wait — knowing that she held the tiebreaker — and watched both of them hit the bar.
“As soon as the second girl missed I looked up at my mom and my family up in the stands and I just started smiling. It was kind of surreal,” Nageotte said.
The moment was extra special for Nageotte because of everything she has gone through in her college career. After starting off at Dayton, she transferred to AU when her coach left after her sophomore year. As a junior, she had mono for most of the indoor season and struggled to get her momentum back in the spring.
At one point, some of her teammates never thought she was going to vault well again and were trying to convince vault coach Denny Steele to let her quit. After getting her confidence back over the summer, she came back ready to give it one last shot.
“I can do this,” Nageotte told herself. “This is my sport. Go out and get it.”
When Steele handed her the trophy on top of the podium, the emotion of being the best in the nation rushed over her.
“It was just amazing to know that everything that I had been working toward had paid off,” she said.
Despite some jaw-dropping performances from Ashland athletes, there was one that stood above the rest at the festival.
Sophomore Drew Windle blew away the field in the 800-meter run with a time of 1:48.75 and ran a key leg in the Eagles’ 1600-meter relay victory that secured second-place overall in the men’s team standings.
Windle won the first two national championships of his career within two hours of each other and was named the National Indoor Track Athlete of the Year.
“It’s really special just to represent Ashland in that way,” he said.
In the 800, Windle sat back for the first two laps and then with 340 meters to go threw in a surge to gap the field by about five meters. By the time he crossed the finish line, he was leading by almost two seconds.
“Coming around the final turn I saw a couple of my teammates standing there and you could just tell from the expressions on their faces that I had my first national title wrapped up,” he said.
After receiving his trophy, Windle had about an hour-and-a-half to collect himself and get ready for the relay.
Senior Cory Lamar ran the first leg and handed the baton to Windle in the lead.
“I knew that since I was worn out I had to make sure I got my legs moving the first 50 to 100 meters,” Windle said.
Even so, James Quarles from Saint Augustine’s passed him within the first 50 meters. But Windle caught him and gave what he called a perfect handoff to junior Jacob Cook to give the Eagles a one-second lead halfway through.
Cook ran a 47.10 split to make the gap almost two seconds when junior Keith Cleveland took over.
“Jacob Cook stepped off the track and that’s when I knew that unless something really horrible happened I had gotten my second national title in the four-by-four,” Windle said.
This time, he got to celebrate with a great group of friends.
“It’s cool in a different way and it’s equally as special,” he said.
Since it was a festival year, all of the champions got to relish in the moment at the closing ceremony. No matter the sport, the one thing that ties all of them together is hard work.
In fact, most of them even reflected on the tough times they have endured in preparation for the winning moment.
“It was almost like a movie flashback or montage,” Quick said. “I just remembered in like a quick two seconds the first time I ever tried to throw a weight and I threw it backwards or the one time that I almost threw it at someone’s car or the one time I released it too early and almost hit people in the head or all the countless distance runners I’ve almost killed with a weight in the fieldhouse and all the times I’ve hit the ceiling and all of the weights that I’ve broke.
“In that moment, you really think, ‘I have come so far.’”
Article by Chris Bils
Sports Editor of The Collegian