Track and Field Claims Program’s First Conference Title
Women’s track and field smashed conference records and reached new heights last weekend at the North Coast Athletic Conference Indoor Track Championship, claiming its first outright title in program history. As boisterous cheers reverberated off the walls of Heisman Field House, the Yeowomen stood alone on their home turf after besting the Ohio Wesleyan University Battling Bishops, the team that had tied them for first in 2009.
“To perform so well at home here in Oberlin, in such a convincing fashion, made the win very special,” Head Coach Ray Appenheimer said.
The two-day competition kicked off Friday with top performances by Yeowomen in virtually every category. Two juniors dominated the field as Annie Goodridge earned first place in the triple jump, and Ana Richardson took the crown in the weight throw. Richardson, who entered Friday’s weight throw as the top seed in the round of 18, threw 56 feet, 11.5 inches to qualify for nationals.
Goodridge jumped 37-10 in the preliminary round, the mark which eventually secured them the win, despite recently enduring a bout of norovirus. Goodridge said they and their teammates were fiercely determined, and, although the team was ranked No. 1 in the prechampionships poll, the Yeowomen avoided being lulled into a false sense of security.
“The coaches and captains reminded us that the prediction meant nothing unless every single person brought their full energy to the meet,” Goodridge said. “There was a tangible electricity in the field house, both coming from my fellow teammates on both the men’s and women’s side and people who just came to watch.”
Goodridge said even their teammates who were not running in the conference meet made a huge impact.
“Competing or not, every single person on our team who was able to make it to the meet made the conference win possible,” they said. “It’s not just what we did that day, but the months of preparation and the hundreds of hours we’ve spent together on the track that really defines who we are as a team. I have never felt closer to such a large group of people in my life.”
The squad’s successes continued to accumulate on Saturday, with senior pole vaulter Ave Spencer’s conference-winning vault of 11-09 on her second attempt.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came from first-year thrower Naeisha McClain. McClain bested the NCAC record with her throw of 49-02.50 in the preliminaries, qualifying for NCAAs in her first ever NCAC championship meet.
“It was absolutely amazing to win,” McClain said. “Seeing and hearing the crowd of loud, cheering familiar faces was a feeling unlike any other.”
McClain surprised many by defeating her mentor, junior Monique Newton, who finished second. Newton was ranked first in the nation in Division III shot-put heading into the meet. She qualified for NCAAs earlier in December with a throw of 49-09.25 at the Kent State University Golden Flash Gala. Newton said she was happy with the team’s collective success.
“I didn’t win,” Newton said. “I’ve won the previous four [NCAC indoor and outdoor championships]. My streak is over, but I would trade an individual title for a team conference title any day.”
Back on the track, first-year and LaGrange, Ohio, native Shannon Wargo claimed the victory in the women’s mile as her family cheered her on from the bleachers. Outrunning highly ranked competition from DePauw and Allegheny, Wargo finished the mile in 5 minutes, 6.09 seconds in her championship debut.
Junior captain and sprinter Lilah Drafts-Johnson also finished first in the women’s 400-meter dash with an NCAC record-breaking time of 57.18. To top things off, she finished second in the women’s 200 and helped her teammates finish second and third in the 4×200 meter and 4×400 meter relays, respectively. Drafts-Johnson gave all credit to her team.
“Being a ‘good’ runner requires more than just talent,” she said. “You need to be dedicated, vulnerable and fearless in competition and in practice. … We were able to win because we’ve worked hard, given 100 percent effort, and learned from our failures. We just needed to perform like the deep, talented team we are, and that’s exactly what we did.”
The Yeowomen finished with a grand total of 181 points and 10 awards from the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, as well as the women’s coach of the year accolade for Appenheimer and the sprinter/hurdler of the year honor for Drafts-Johnson.
While the meet was incredible on the track, Appenheimer said he will remember the support the Yeowomen showed each other, even those who were not competing.
“Their excitement buoyed us to do incredible things in two days,” he said. “There’s a saying about the high tide that raises all ships. The people who didn’t compete were our high tide. They lifted us up. It was incredible to see the 65 women up on the stand together sharing this achievement. There’s nothing else like it.”
Appenheimer will travel with Drafts-Johnson, Richardson, McClain and Newton to compete in the NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships in Naperville, IL, this weekend.
The rest of the Yeowomen are already back in action, training for the outdoor track and field season. Appenheimer said the team has set its sights on earning another title at the outdoor NCAA Championships in April.
“We’ve never won conference in the spring,” Appenheimer said. “But after this weekend, we all know that we want to do this all again.”