With 32 underclass students on the combined 61-runner roster, the Loyola men’s and women’s track and field teams are focused on developing their young runners this season.
The Ramblers came flying out of the gate to begin the season at the Grand Valley State University Holiday Open Nov. 30.
The 4x400m relay team, made up of juniors Eligia Oliage and Leron Norton and sophomores Michael Edwards and Octavian Wells, recorded a 3:14.48 finish to win the event. Redshirt senior Nicholas Prajka’s 2:32.30 time in the the 1000m also earned him a first-place finish, with senior Brady McCue coming in second with a time of 2.32.70. Sophomore Eric Burns picked up where he left off last season, winning the high jump with a 7.27 meter jump.
“We’ve got a very young team, so development is key, especially this winter as we try to get everyone in the right place and zone before the spring where we hope to see growth, from our new recruits, to our returning standouts,” head coach Bob Thurnhoffer said.
The team is stocked with standouts, including junior mid-distance runner Kevin White leading the Ramblers on the track after he swept the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) last season in the 800m race in the indoor and outdoor seasons. The Ramblers are also led by Burns and senior long jumper Kiera Washpun — both of whom qualified for the NCAA West Regional last spring — as they look to make the NCAA meet this season.
“My coach and I have been thinking [about] nationals this winter and that’s what I’m shooting for right off the bat,” Washpun said.
Coming off a season in which she won the MVC outdoor title with a 6.06 meter jump and two spring tournament wins, Washpun hopes she can finally break through to the national meet in College Station, Texas March 9-10 in her final season with the Ramblers.
“I know where my goals are and what I need to do to achieve them, but I want to remain humble and keep thinking I’m the underdog,” Washpun said. “I think that’s the only mindset I can have to keep improving and hopefully make it to nationals this year.”
Other notable events for the Ramblers include the 4x400m, where the team hopes Norton can lead them to MVC and regional success. Last spring, Norton recorded a personal record in the 200m dash (22.57) and a fifth-place finish (49.98) in the 400m at the Bill Cornell Spring Classic, all while battling injuries.
“Coming back fully healthy from last year’s injuries, I really don’t know what I’m capable of,” Norton said. “So consistency, for me, is the key and getting out there and performing again because we’ve got a really talented 4×400 group so I’m just hoping to return better than ever to help us this season.”
After finishing sixth at the MVC Championship last season, the Ramblers hope improvements and development from Edwards, Wells and Oliage can help them win this year’s MVC title in the 4x400m.
“We’ve got a really good 4x400m team that’s only scratching the surface of what they can achieve, and this winter will be huge for their development as we try to put it together after last year’s encouraging finish, especially with how young our team was,” Thurnhoffer said.
With notable returners in many events, the team now hopes this translates to both winter and spring success as they look for both the MVC private school league title and an overall MVC title in the spring.
“Obviously the MVC title is something you hope for along with success for your best individual performers,” Thurnhoffer said. “But we’re also hoping to finish first among the private universities in the MVC and this is something we were really close to last season. But with the talent we’ve got this year, after not too many losses, it’s definitely in our sights.”
The Ramblers’ season is scheduled to continue Jan. 20 at the John Tierney Classic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.