Spires' men's track and field takes sixth place at nationals

USM Athletics
Shown is University of Saint Mary junior Torrey White handing off to junior Mark Noel in the 4x400-meter relay at the NAIA outdoor track and field national championships in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

GULF SHORES, Ala. – Both of the University of Saint Mary track and field teams competed in the 70th annual NAIA outdoor track and field national championships, Wednesday through Friday. The men's team would come home with their highest ever finish in sixth place with a program-high 33 points, while the women took 37th place with eight total points.

The men's track and field team entered the national championships ranked ninth in the nation, while the women were sitting at No. 23 in the latest USTFCCCA NAIA Top 25 polls.

"We had a really good season and it was our highest ever finish for track," head coach Alstin Benton said. "We averaged seventh place at the meets and we are really proud of being consistent and it shows how hard these guys work year-round.”

The Spires also brought home some hardware as a total of 11 individuals earned NAIA All-American awards. The men's 4x800-meter relay team of Liam Neidig, Eric Vazquez, Kaden Cooley and Luke Skinner made NAIA All-American status, while Johnathan Bowen, Alyssa Armendariz, Darion Allen, Corey Lyons, Torrey White and Mark Noel were also named NAIA All-Americans.

Wednesday events

Maddy Walter-Sherretts qualified for the finals of the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase – taking 11th in the prelims in a time of 11:06.83. Riley Hiebert just missed qualifying for the final round taking 15th place in 11:29.94. Natasha Ortiz and Reagan Hiebert also took 19th and 22nd respectively.

“Our women competed with the most we've ever brought on the track,” Benton said. “Having four ladies in the steeplechase and some in the marathon was pretty cool for us. We are really young with the majority of them being freshmen. It's really cool for them to have those experiences and they just learn.”

In the men's 1,500-meter run, Eric Vazquez took a fifth-place finish to qualify for the final round, in a time of 3:55.93. Liam Neidig also qualified, taking 10th in a time of 3:57.42, while Kaden Cooley just missed the cut taking 13th place. Johnathan Bowen was the top finisher in the men's 10K placing third in 30:40.70 and Jared Stark placed 11th in 31:56.57.

The men's 4x800-meter relay team of Neidig, Vazquez, Cooley and Luke Skinner also qualified for the final round taking seventh in what marked a school-record time of 7:33.57.

Thursday events

Corey Lyons started things off for the Spires by taking fourth place in the 400-meter dash prelims with a time of 47.39 – marking a new school record in the process. Bowen also qualified for the final round in the men's 5K taking 12th place in a time of 14:55.81.

Later in the day, the men's 4x400-meter relay team of Torrey White, Mark Noel, Lyons and Darion Allen sprinted to a fourth-place finish in the prelims in a school-record time of 3:11.70. The finals of the men's 4x800-meter relay event also had the Spires jump two spots from the prelims, to take fifth place in 7:34.95, and were named NAIA All-Americans.

Friday events

The first event of the day was the marathon as Alyssa Armendariz finished as the national runner-up on the women's side, finishing in a school-record 3:13.21, and earning All-American status. 

“Alyssa's marathon event was really cool,” Benton said. “It's an event that can go really well or not. She did battle the last two miles with some cramps and she was able to hold on and get her All-American spot. Really cool moment for her.”

Walter-Sherretts later competed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase final and came away with a top 10 finish – taking 10th at 11:37.71. Brendan Erwin and Luke Skinner were named NAIA All-Americans for placing in the top eight on the men's side in the same event. Erwin came in fourth place in a time of 9:18.16, while Skinner placed sixth in 9:20.96.

In the men's 1,500-meter final, Vazquez and Neidig placed 10th and 12th respectively, in times of 3:59.67 and 4:01.44. Lyons competed in the 400-meter finals and would take home a fifth-place finish in 47.30 seconds.

Bowen would take his second NAIA All-American award in the men's 5K after placing sixth in a time of 14:53.96. White, Noel, Lyons and Allen then improved upon their 4x400 meter relay prelim time in the finals, taking second place behind Wayland Baptist with a school-record time of 3:11.37 and were also named NAIA All-Americans.

"One of the funnest events to watch is the 4x400-meter relay,” Benton said, “and we've never had a team in the final and it was super cool. I could talk about every guy and girl on the team on how they did. A lot of performances this weekend that I was pumped about, but it's not about who will have the perfect day it's about getting the task done."