Head coach Chris Layne says his crew is dialed in and ready to go against a conference that has been getting stronger and stronger in recent years.
“The AAC is quickly becoming one of the most competitive conferences in our region, if not the nation. I believe we currently have over 60 national marks out of the AAC,” he said.
“We’re entering the meet relatively healthy for a team of our size,” Layne continues. “We have seen a number of national marks and personal bests over the last few weeks, so honestly, I’m just looking for our crew to step up across the board — they’re ready.”
No. 1 marks in the AAC
The Buffs will take into the conference championship meet several of the league’s top seeds.
Senior Erica Stone leads the way on the women’s side with two individual No. 1 marks plus one No. 1 relay, while Tim Thacker leads the men’s side with two No. 1 marks. Stone is currently the AAC’s best in the 800 by over two seconds and 1,000 meters by a second and a half. Stone leads a pack of six Buffs in the top seven in the 1K, as Katlyn Haas ranks No. 2 and Bekah Owen, Caitlin Dominy, Avery DeWolf and Maci Cloninger are seeded fourth thru seventh.
Stone, Gabrielle Mardis, Kiley Wood and Owen make up the women’s distance medley relay team, which heads into the conference meet as the top seed. Rounding out the women’s No. 1 marks is Valentina Kenjeres, who leads in the 600-meter run.
For the men, Thacker ranks No. 1 in the AAC in both the 800 and mile. Rasheem Brown is first in the 60-meter hurdles, and Nathan Baker is top-ranked over 3,000 meters.
In all, Milligan holds eight leading marks in the conference.
Layne’s team has not only depth but also a lot of talent in the distance and middle distance events. The men are No. 2 nationally over 1,000 meters, No. 5 in the 3K and mile, and No. 7 in the 5K. The women boast the No. 1 squad in the 5K and are No. 2 in the 1K, No. 3 in the 3K and No. 6 in the mile.
Layne’s program entered the indoor season coming off a No. 8 (women) and No. 14 (men) finish at the NAIA Cross Country National Championships.
“Obviously, our distance crew have a ton of momentum right now,” Layne said. “But I do expect we’ll pick up solid points in other event areas. We have Connor Morgan complementing Rasheem in the hurdles, Brianna Buck looks ready to go in the high jump, and then you have Tons Ferguson in both jump events. Folks like Brent Coleman, Jarad Turpen and then our throws crew are also right in the mix for points.”
Several high individual marks heavily aid Milligan’s high national ranks in the event squad areas. Thacker ranks No. 2 in the mile and No. 3 in the 1K. Haas (No. 7), Owen (No. 17), Mardis (No. 23) and DeWolf (No. 33) are in the top tier over 300 meters. Owen (No. 9) and DeWolf (No. 12) are in the top 12 in the 5k.
Additionally, Brown is No. 1 nationally in the 60-meter hurdles and Ferguson is No. 9 in the triple jump.
Looking to wrap up successful indoor season
Layne says the indoor season has been a good one, and he thinks the team’s fitness is where it needs to be.
“I think this is one of the most productive indoor seasons we’ve had,” he said. “We definitely expect more right now because we probably have as much talent as we’ve ever had across the board, but they’ve proven to be fit and I know the competitiveness of this event will have them excited to compete.”
After the AAC Championships this week, the Buffs will turn their attention to the NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships for the final event of indoor season.
Layne says this provides the team a unique experience of looking to be competitive at the conference level while also ensuring they stay at their peak physically and mentally in preparation for the national level.
“There are so many layers to this meet,” Layne concludes regarding the AAC Championships. “We want to be competitive so we’ll set up our top kids to help, but in a way it better prepares them for nationals. For others, if this is the pinnacle of their season, we want them to have a solid experience so they can come off this meet feeling like they’ve taken a step.”