February 03, 2023

Spartans qualify three events to nationals

PELLA - The Southwestern track & field team punctuated last weekend at the Dutch Athletic Classic by qualifying three events to the NJCAA Indoor National Championships, and posting an NJCAA leading mark.

Sophomore Molly Venteicher, a CAM graduate, set the tone early in the day for the Spartans in the first event. Venteicher shattered her own school record in the weight throw (12.87 meters) on her first attempt of the day with a mark of 14.32 meters.

She immediately improved that record on her next attempt with a throw of 14.40 meters. Venteicher wasn’t close to being done, however. Her third and final throw of prelims sailed to a mark of 15.53 meters, automatically qualifying her for the national championships, and setting the top mark in the NJCAA this season. Venteicher is one of only two women throwers to qualify for the weight throw so far, and she currently leads the event nationally by .54 meters. Her new school record of 15.53 meters is a 2.66 meter improvement over her best throw from last year.

Venteicher continued her impressive meet later in the day by launching the shot put 12.58 meters to also qualify for nationals in that event. It broke her previous indoor PR in the event by .94 meters, and also broke Shammell Mangrum’s 2014 school record of 12.03 meters. Venteicher ranks sixth nationally in the shot put, and is the only women’s athlete so far to qualify for nationals in both the shot put and the weight throw. She finished second in both events to athletes from four-year schools.

“It was a busy start to the day for us with so many field events going on at one time, but as soon as people started finding out about Molly qualifying for nationals, team camp started buzzing with excitement,” said Scott Vicker, director of cross country/track & field. “Everyone was already excited for our first meet, but Molly’s weight throw took that excitement to another level. I couldn’t be happier for Molly to have the start to the season she did. No one works harder than she does, so for her to come out and make a huge statement like that right away was great.”

Her performance earned her the athlete of the week title from both the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference and the National Junior College Athletic Association.

While Venteicher was busy smashing school records, another Spartan sophomore was stealing the show on the track. Justin Cunningham had everyone in the bleachers talking after blasting the field in the men’s 60 meter dash. Cunningham cruised to an easy victory in his preliminary heat, running a new PR time of 6.87 seconds and winning by .37 seconds. He once again left the field in his dust in the finals, running another new PR time of 6.85 and winning the finals by .19 seconds. Cunningham’s time in the finals was good enough to hit the qualifying standard for nationals, and currently ranks him 10th in the NJCAA. Cunningham is just .01 second off the school record, set in 2015 by John Rivan. Cunningham’s previous best coming into Saturday was 6.92.

“Justin definitely left a mark on the fans in the stands Saturday, as well as the other sprint competitors,” Vicker said. “I had multiple people coming up to me after his races to ask about him or to just tell me how impressive he was. For him to run so fast against competition that honestly wasn’t pushing him at all is a great sign. As we start to get into bigger meets with tougher competition, I expect him to continue to lower his time.”

The Spartans picked up another event victory on the day with sophomore Robert Norton running gutsy race in the men’s 600 meters. Norton crossed the finish line in a time of 1:27.06. The sophomore from Trophy Club, Texas, took the race out from the gun and immediately ran away from the field. He faded in the final 100 meters of the race, but still held on to win by more than 2 full seconds.

“Robert wanted to put himself in a position where he would have a chance to hit the national qualifying standard. He did exactly that through 400 meters,” Vicker said. “The problem was he got a little too much adrenaline in the first 200, so he used up a lot of energy over the first 200. If we can get him to even out his 200 splits, and get him in a more competitive race, he is going to have a chance to qualify.”

A third school record was also broken for the Spartans, as sophomore Conrad Schroeder made his debut in the weight throw. A middle distance runner last year, Schroeder has transitioned into a full-time thrower this year. He came up 1 cm short of tying the school record during prelims at 10.16 meters, but he was able to qualify for finals of the event, where he added more than a meter to his throw. Schroeder’s best mark in finals came in at 11.37 meters. He currently ranks 21st in the nation in the event.

Another highlight for the Spartan women was sophomore Jena Yonker matching her PR of 8.48 in the 60 meter dash prelims to qualify for finals of the event.

Southwestern returns to the track Saturday at the Northwest Open in Maryville, Missouri, hosted by Northwest Missouri State University. Running and field events both begin at noon.

“This is the closest we will be to home during the indoor season, so it’s a great opportunity for anyone who wants to come out and see us compete,” Vicker said.