The Loyola Track and Field team broke records and earned podium placings at three events April 14-16. Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Gavin Kennedy said he was impressed by the performances and that the achievements will boost his team’s confidence for the rest of the season.
Loyola won two individual events at the Redbird Challenge while posting three of the fastest times in program history in the 1,5000m event and 10,000m run. The team’s success against tough competition helped Loyola run faster times to prepare for postseason meets, Kennedy said.
The Ramblers sent athletes to three events over the weekend, running at the Bryan Clay Invitational California and Mt. SAC Relays April 14-15 in California while also competing at the Redbird Invitational April 16 in Normal, Illinois. Kennedy said he split his team across the three meets to expose his athletes to competitors beyond the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC).
“I think if you look at the results we got what we needed out of it,” Kennedy said. “[It’s] a national caliber event, and it gives our athletes some perspective on life beyond the conference, which is obviously where we want to get to as the future unfolds.”
Kicking off the weekend, senior distance runner Kathleen Simms ran the second-fastest 10,000m event time in program history to earn sixth place at the Mt. SAC Relays, trimming almost 30 seconds off her personal best to post a time of 33:42.12.
After her showing, Simms was recognized as the MVC Female Track Athlete of the Week April 20, earning her second weekly conference honor of the season.
On the men’s side, senior distance runner Blake Buysse shaved 40 seconds off his personal best in the 10,000m run with a time of 29:22.49, netting him the third-fastest event time in program history. Buysse, a finance and information systems major, said he was pleased by his performance in the 10,000m run since he typically competes in the 5,000m event.
“I didn’t know where I was at coming in because I’ve shown improvement in the 5,000m event this season, and you only get a couple of shots in the 10,000m run in a season,” Buysse said. “I knew there was a lot [of change] there [and] it was more than I was expecting, so I was definitely happy.”
Buysse said he doesn’t set stat-based goals, preferring to focus on each day to reach his goal of running the fastest 10,000m time in program history. This season, he is running more miles than in past years and is working to improve before the conference championship, Buysse said.
Senior distance runner Claire Hengesbaugh also earned a place in program history at the Mt. SAC Relays, earning the second-fastest 5,000m run in program history with a time of 16:02.99. Kennedy said he challenged Hengesbaugh before the race to stick with the pack and trim as much time as possible off her personal record.
“I challenged Claire before the race to put herself in a position to be successful, and she did that very early on and came away with a massive 20-second personal record,” Kennedy said. “It’s well deserved, and she’s put in a lot of work. I think the best is yet to come.”
Hengesbaugh, who’s pursuing an environmental science degree, said she was surprised by her performance because she trimmed three minutes off her 5,000m time from her first year at Loyola, adding that her time made her excited about the rest of the season. She said she wants to stay healthy and avoid runner’s anemia — a medical condition that reduces red blood cell counts — to keep improving this season.
Closer to home in Illinois, Loyola earned two podium finishes at the Redbird Challenge. First-year distance runner Nora Wollen won the 1,500m event with a personal-best 4:39.58 while senior jumper Jana Rokitta took first in the high jump with a leap of 5-05.00 on her first attempt.
Kennedy said Wollen’s victory in the 1,500m run will help her back into the 5,000m event since she has been limited in competition after testing positive for COVID-19 at the Raleigh Relays in Raleigh, North Carolina March 24-26.
“Nora had a bit of bad luck early this season, she caught COVID down at NC State, so she’s been working her way back into a position to compete,” Kennedy said. “She won her event, which is awesome and [should] be a stepping stone into her first 5,000m run.”
Following the program’s successful weekend, Loyola was ranked No. 22 in the women’s 5,000m run as part of the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCA) Event Squad Rankings. Kennedy said his team owes the ranking to performances by Hengesbaugh and graduate distance runner Tarynn Cullings, and that the recognition is proof his team has momentum before postseason meets.
“It shows that things are working, and we are trending in a good direction, we’ve got some momentum building and everyone is excited for what’s to come,” Kennedy said. “At the end of the day, it’s a national ranking, and you can read into it a lot or just move on to what’s next.
The track & field team is set to return to action at the Clark Wood Open April 29-30 in Louisville, Kentucky.