Last season, the Loyola women’s track and field team finished sixth at the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Indoor Championships, its highest place since Loyola’s first year in the MVC. The men’s team finished in seventh, a slight improvement from finishing eighth two years ago.
This season, the track and field team has 36 underclassmen on its roster, meaning 57 percent of the team is either a first-year or a sophomore in academic standing. Head coach Bob Thurnhoffer said the coaches have been focusing a lot on recruiting their version of the perfect Loyola athlete.
“We have a couple like intangibles … that we look for when we are recruiting and … We know what we are looking for,” Thurnhoffer said. “Obviously you need talent … but we really want good students and we have definitely found those kids, just the personality type that fits the culture of Loyola.”
Being a mid-major school, Loyola isn’t gifted with the number of athletes as some of the major Division I schools, according to Thurnhoffer. Loyola only has 63 athletes on its roster whereas a school such as University of Iowa — which the Ramblers will be competing against at least twice this season — has 111.
Thurnhoffer said although Loyola has a lower number of athletes, the ones it has are skilled.
“We have zero room for error when we are competing against all the public schools with all the facilities in the world and low academic standards,” Thurnhoffer said. “They have teams that are double or triple the size of ours, so they have the depth. We have the talent, but we just don’t have any room for error, because we don’t have the depth.”
The 63 athletes on the team come from 17 different states and six different countries. Thurnhoffer said he said he’s looking forward to watching them all compete. The women’s team has two athletes who transferred from PAC 12 Conference schools. Sophomore Oyinlola Akinlosotu transferred from Washington State University and junior Mackenzie Arnold transferred from University of Utah. Thurnhoffer said to look out for Arnold.
“[Arnold] was a high school stud and when she went [to Utah] she struggled,” Thurnhoffer said. “[She] transferred out, came here and last year was very developmental. This year, she looks like she can do something really special. We think Mackenzie Arnold can really be a girl contending for a podium finish.”
For the women’s sprints side, assistant coach Jon DeGrave said senior Natajah Simmons is the key runner to watch this season. Last season, Simmons finished the 60-meter dash in seventh place at the Missouri Valley Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships. DeGrave said due to the high talent in the women’s sprints, she hasn’t gotten the recognition she deserves.
“She has kind of gotten better every year, but I have always also known there was more there,” DeGrave said. “She never fully captured what she was capable of. I think hopefully this will be her year to do it. I think she is ready to have a really memorable senior year.”
The women’s cross-country team is coming off of a second place MVC Championship finish. Simmons said she hopes the team’s success will carry over into the track season.
“I feel like it is definitely going to push us,” Simmons said. “It’s going to push the sprint as well as the distance crew to just work harder to get up to that too and to place higher in the MVCs. I’m really looking forward to that and I am very proud of what they were able to accomplish as a team. It just shows how strong we are becoming as a unit and hopefully that translates into the track and field season as well.”
Last season, junior long jumper Eric Burns placed second at the indoor and outdoor MVC Championships. Burns is currently third on Loyola’s all-time indoor track leaderboard and second on the outdoor track leaderboard with jumps of 24.06 meters and 25.02 meters, respectively. Thurnhoffer said he thinks Burns might be able to break both of those records this season.
“The kid’s talent and work ethic is second to none. It’s really extraordinary,” Thurnhoffer said. “He’s a guy that takes getting better serious 24 hours a day. I think the results show that. He’s coachable. He’s easy to work with. And I think this is a year where he’s truly ready to make All-American.”