NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Just four years after the opening of Bethel’s new stadium, the Thresher track team is thriving. In fact, Bethel already has five athletes qualified for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Outdoor Track & Field Championships coming up in May.
Leading this strong team is a group of six seniors: J.D. Bahret from Soldier, Scott Goering from Pretty Prairie, Rene Kaufman from Moundridge, Jordon Regehr from Halstead, Kristen Schrag from Moundridge and Dakota Sorensen from Crestone, Colo.
Tracy Tuttle, head coach and assistant professor of physics, says that these six are a big reason why the track team has been successful.
In Schrag’s four years at Bethel, she has noticed improvements in the track team, she says. “It’s been awesome to watch our track team build each year since I was a freshman. Not only do we have more numbers this year, but we’ve got many quality athletes as well, that can bring in points on the track or in the field.
“As a result, both the men and women have been able to place high as a team at many meets,” Schrag continued. “We’ve actually been able to compete, team-wise, with the other schools in the [Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, KCAC] that usually would just dominate.”
Regehr, who competes in the 400-meter dash and the 4x400 meter relay, agrees. “We’ve got a great balance between throwers, jumpers, vaulters and runners,” he says. “Because we have quality athletes in each event, we are tough to beat as a team.”
For many of the seniors, their freshman year was also the first year Bethel teams competed in their brand-new stadium.
Regehr (actually a sophomore when the new stadium opened) remembers when the track team still had to drive to Newton High School every day for practices. He says the new track and field have “helped tremendously the overall quality of the track team,” with recruiting as well as overall team performance.
Goering, who competes in long jump, triple jump and the 4x100 meter relay, adds, “The facility is definitely one of the best designed in the KCAC so I really enjoy having home meets. It is nice to have a good surface to run on so we don’t develop so many injuries.”
And, as Tuttle puts it, “Success breeds success.” He explains that the track facility accounts in large part for Bethel’s ability to attract and keep quality athletes.
Sorensen, who plans to compete again next year and graduate in May 2010, gives credit to the coaching staff. “Tracy Tuttle has done a great job bringing in the right people to develop this program into a contender,” he says.
In addition to the coaches – which also include assistant coaches Travis Graber, Stacy Koontz and Gerry Sieber – Regehr says hard work has played an important role in the team’s success. “Success will make you work harder – once you get that taste of success, you don’t want to lose it,” he explains. “We have had a very successful track team the past couple years, and we just keep getting better every day.”
One measure of the team’s success could be the number of athletes qualified for nationals. Tuttle says that while the team may not consistently win conference championships, they do continue to outperform the other KCAC schools at nationals.
Bahret and Sorensen, both of whom qualified in discus, push each other on in competition. Bahret says, “The rivalry is a blast.” Sorensen qualified with a throw of 163'1" and Bahret with 166'9".
Bahret says it took a while for the news of qualifying to sink in. “As soon as the discus left my hand I knew that it was going to ride,” he recounts. “After the distance was measured, I remained fairly calm. It wasn’t until I called my parents [that it sank in]. I was so excited that I don’t think they understood what I was saying.”
Like Bahret, Sorensen is thrilled about competing at nationals. “I have wanted to go to nationals since I got here to Bethel,” he says. “I cannot wait to have the chance to throw on that level.”
Other national qualifiers include sophomore Garrett Hiebert, Goessel, a second-time qualifier in javelin with a season best throw of 210'5", sophomore Annette Gingerich, Parnell, Iowa, who qualified for nationals in the women’s 10,000 meter, with a time of 38:33.52, and junior Tyler Schroeder, Newton, who qualified for men’s shot put with 15.55 meters.
Provisional qualifiers include junior David Daugharthy, Iola, in javelin and Schrag in the women’s 800m. Five more athletes are very close to qualifying and legitimately could do so in the next couple of weeks: Andrew McNary, freshman from Potwin, in the 400m hurdles, and the men’s 4x400m relay team consisting of Regehr, David and Jesse Mueller, juniors from Halstead, McNary and Darin Derstein, junior from Ford.
Tuttle has seen the track team come a long way. When he started at Bethel 17 years ago, the team consisted of six competitors. This year’s track team includes 28 men and 16 women.
One of the freshmen carrying on this legacy is Schrag’s sister, Alyssa. Kristen Schrag says that this is “the most exciting part of my senior track season,” adding, “We got to play volleyball and run together my senior year of high school and we’re doing the same thing this year at Bethel. It’s been really special to have her with me on both teams as I make my last memories as a Bethel athlete.”
“You couldn’t ask for a better team,” says Tuttle. In addition to the whole team really wanting to compete, he says, “They’re motivated and great leaders.”
The NAIA National Outdoor Championships will take place in Edwardsville, Ill., May 20-23.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. In sports, Bethel is part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC). For more information, see the Bethel web site at www.bethelks.edu.