The Loyola men’s and women’s track and field teams wrapped up their indoor seasons, placing in the bottom of the team standings at the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Indoor Track and Field meet in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Feb. 26.
The men’s team finished last in the conference standings, while the women’s team fought off Bradley University to seal an eighth place finish out of nine teams. Pre-meet favorite Wichita State University took home gold for both the men’s and women’s teams. The Shockers collected five-times the points Loyola had.
Although the Ramblers’ team outcomes were disappointing, first-year head coach Bob Thurnhoffer said it wasn’t a surprise.
“We knew we weren’t going to finish spectacularly in the team standings,” said Thurnhoffer. “It’s a work in progress, but we’re a good, young team. I think we’re still a year to a year and a half out from really developing this young talent … Overall, we’ve hit some good marks especially with our young athletes.”
Despite the team’s bottomfeeder finish, Loyola had some individual runners who shined against MVC foes. Sophomore Kevin White squeezed out a first place finish in the 800 meter race, after outracing a Wichita State runner on the final stretch by .04 seconds. White finished with a time of 1:54.44, which is 4.64 seconds slower than his career best. Loyola has quite the tradition of winning the 800 meter title. White is the fourth consecutive Rambler to take home a gold medal in the event.
“It feels great that I was able to continue that tradition,” said White. “I definitely got a lot of feedback from 800 meter runners … how happy they were to see me win … [it’s] even more special when it’s kind of our race. We’ve developed talent in that event and we take it home.”
White wasn’t the only standout on the men’s team. Redshirt junior AlexBaker finished as a runner-up in the 3,000 meter run with a time of 8:20.69 — one-tenth of a second behind first place. Loyola’s men’s 4×400 relay team pulled off a notable fourth place finish. Junior Sam Urben, sophomore Leron Norton and first-years Michael Edwards and Connor McCue ran a 3:18.48.
For the women’s team, Loyola junior Cassie Bloch and senior Audrey Michaelson both qualified for the mile finals. Bloch, a walk-on, finished in third place and Michaelson crossed the finish line 6.67 seconds behind Bloch for an eighth place finish.
The indoor track season comes after Loyola’s track and field program receiveda major facelift during the offseason before the fall season. Loyola Athletic Director Steve Watson promoted Thurnhoffer to the head coach position in August after Thurnhoffer served the past six seasons as an assistant coach with the Ramblers. The promotion came after Loyola’s previous head coach Randy Hasenbank took a new coaching position at the University of Iowa.
After Thurnhoffers’ promotion, Loyola revamped its track and field staff, hiring three new assistant coaches and welcoming back one volunteer assistant coach. Thurnhoffer said he wanted his staff to change the culture of the program.
“Having been through two different staffs [at Loyola], I do feel like … [you need to] take a step back from athletics. Learn to respect the athletes for who they are. These are people. They’re young and I’m willing to go through the hard times with them,” Thurnhoffer said. “I’m not going to come down on them. I’m going to support them because we’re in this together. I hate putting undue pressure on young kids, like I want them to know that this taff isn’t putting pressure on them to perform. I want them to perform well because they want to. I don’t want it to be externally motivated; I want it to be internally motivated.”
Bloch said Thurnhoffer and his coaching staff ’s attitude toward how they respect the athletes has had a positive impact on the team’s performance.
“We’re a growing team. We’ve had a lot of coaching transition and we’ve had a transition for a lot of people stepping up and taking new role,” Bloch said. “They’ve really changed the culture … and the new coaching staff improved the spirit of the team.”
With young talent and a new coaching staff, Loyola lacks the same facilities such as an indoor and outdoor track unlike other MVC schools. Thurnhoffer said this puts his team at a disadvantage, but he doesn’t believe this means the Ramblers “can’t be successful.”
With the indoor season behind Loyola, the team looks forward to the outdoor season, where Thurnhoffer said the team will find more success because the team can use Montrose Beach track outside for practice. He also said the coaching staff has a better understanding of what jobs and responsibilities each staffer holds.
The Ramblers will also welcome back junior Lindsey Brewis and first-year Octavian Wells who are out after sustaining injuries. Grad-student Jake Mazanke will also finish off his last season of eligibility during the spring outdoor season.
This week, the team is meeting with the coaching staff to reflect on the indoor season and set goals for the spring season. Loyola is scheduled to start its outdoor season at the Stan Lyons Invitational on March 18 in Indianapolis.