Grace Wins Historic Track National Championship
To cap off a historic day for Grace Athletics, Grace’s track and field teams enjoyed a record-setting day at the 2021 NCCAA National Championships.
The men’s team won the NCCAA national crown, the first national title in track history. The women were the national runners-up, the best finish for the women in team history.
The Lancers’ national title is the sixth in school history at Grace, and second of the day on Friday. Grace’s men’s tennis team won the NCCAA championship earlier in the day in Alabama, which joins men’s basketball (1992-NAIA), volleyball (1995-NCCAA), women’s golf (2019-NCCAA) and men’s soccer (2020-NCCAA) as national champs for the Lancers.
After the meet, Grace’s coaching staff was named the NCCAA National Coaching Staff of the Year, led by head coach Jeff Raymond.
Grace’s men won eight of the 22 events at the outdoor track and field championships and finished second on eight occasions. Grace scored 214 points in the meet, beating out Bethel as the closest competitor with 186 points.
“There were so many highlights this week that I wouldn’t know where to begin. A wide range of athletes stepped up and performed at a really high level for us,” Raymond said. “The men’s championship is a great boost for our program and is hopefully something our team can continue to build on for the future. Our women coming in a close second place is a major accomplishment as well. A big part of the success we experienced this week is due to our amazing assistant coaches and because we have received great support from our administration.”
Isaac Brown was named the NCCAA Outstanding Field Athlete of the Meet after winning the high jump and javelin competitions on Thursday.
For the entire tournament, Grace had 12 events win national championships. On Friday alone, Grace secured eight national titles in various events.
The women’s 4×400-meter relay team of Ashley Stoltzfus, Nordia Campbell, Julia Malson and Lyne Camara posted a time of 3:56.08 to qualify for NAIA Nationals.
Camara also captured the 400 title with a time of 56.42. Stoltzfus was fourth in the race with Malson in eighth.
The 4×100 women also won the national title. Campbell, Camara, Gracious O’Connor and Zoe Huley crossed the finish line in 47.53.
Campbell was the national runner-up (and All-American) in both the 100 and the 200.
The men’s 4×100 produced a winning performance of their own. Isaac Findley, John Green, Michael Williams and Braden Smith set a school record with a time of 41.87, which also hit the NAIA “B” standard.
Green also claimed the 100 dash title with a race of 10.82.
Dimitri Margaritidis finished first in a crowded Lancer pack near the front of the 1,500. He ran a time of 3:56.41, followed by Luke Smith (third place), Korry Hamlin (fifth) and Derek O’Connor (eighth).
In the women’s 1,500, Heather Plastow (4:45.04) and Elizabeth Moore (4:55.99) finished second and third respectively to claim All-American status.
In the women’s 800, Grace finished 2-3-4-5-6. Heather Plastow led the way in 2:22.08, and she was followed by Makenzie Adams, Anna Hulstedt, Kaitlyn Mack and Tara Friesen.
Michaela Buriff was the national runner-up in the 400 hurdles at 1:06.20, Williams was second in the 400 at 49.25, and Caleb Brown was second as well in the hammer (162-1).
Kyle Smith impressed to win the 800 in a time of 1:53.58. He was followed closely by second-place Tanner Sallee, fourth-place Maurice Macklin, fifth-place Isaac Beatty and sixth-place Luke Smith.
Beatty also claimed the title of national champion, winning the 3,000 steeplechase with a school-record time of 9:38.17. Teammate Logan Rufenacht was runner-up in the race.
Grace ended the day with a second-place showing in the men’s 4×400 at 3:19.31 (Williams, Findley, Sallee, Kyle Smith).
“We are pumped and excited. It’s a good step for the program, and we are really heading in the right direction,” said Grace assistant track/head cross country coach Jake Poyner. “I’m proud of our guys for getting to celebrate something that they earned together. I’m very thankful for what the Lord has given us, and all glory goes to Him.”
The meet was particularly memorable for Raymond, who is retiring from coaching at the end of this season. Grace will still send a number of individuals to compete at the NAIA National Championships (May 26), but this week was the final team meet of his career.
“The championship this week is especially meaningful to me as I step away from coaching next year,” Raymond reflected. “I was able to be part of two NCCAA championships as an athlete, so to come full circle and win the title this year is very special to me.”