Three of the most decorated runners in the history of Milligan’s program ran their final races at the NAIA Outdoor National Track & Field Championships. Eight weeks removed from an illness that put him in the hospital, Brandon Ellis rallied to finish fifth in the men’s marathon to earn the third all-American honor of his career. Then came the icing on the cake, a fourth national championship for Hannah Segrave in the women’s 800.
“This has been an emotional month, because you look back at the relationships we’ve developed with Brandon, Taylor (Tafelsky), Hannah and all our seniors,” Layne said.
The month ended with Milligan’s cross country and track program being recognized by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association as one of the top 20 programs in the country. Milligan’s women were ranked 15th while the men were 20th.
While the month of May was the culmination of a lot of hard work, Layne said it was hardly a finish line for his program. Instead, he sees the accolades as evidence that Milligan is on the right track.
“This does not mean that we’ve arrived in any sense,” Layne said. “What it means is that we’re being recognized as we grow. That means a lot more than some people think it means, because it supports the fact that we’ve got things moving in the right direction.”
While Milligan said goodbye to three perennial all-Americans, the Buffs have the potential to be a much deeper team next season in every sense of the word. Not only does Milligan have plenty of quality distance runners returning, the Buffs appear primed to branch out and become more competitive in both sprints and field events.
“I think the really exciting thing is watching the program continue to expand into being competitive in other areas,” Layne said. “When you look at the big picture track & field wise, we continue to build to be a more complete program. There’s more depth, and that’s all built around track & field outside of the distances.”
In the field events, Liz Maller, Brianna Buck, Mark Stair, Zach Thayer, Romeo Gibbs and Tons Ferguson have given Milligan some versatility. Meanwhile, Mitch Bronstetter, Sam Wehner, Katlyn Haas, Erica Stone and JJ Robinson all seem ready to step up and help continue Milligan’s tradition of strong distance runners.
After a year of development, Layne is expecting big things from his rising sophomores. He says Haas and Bronstetter should play major roles this fall in cross country before moving over to run distance events during track season.
“Katlyn Haas is a young lady that can lead our cross country team this fall as a sophomore based on what she’s been able to do as a freshman,” Layne said. “Mitch, we handled him about as well as you can handle a freshman. We stayed patient the whole year. We didn’t over-race him, and then he comes out in his last race of the season and runs a massive personal best in the 5K.”
Likewise, Layne expects Gibbs and Ferguson to emerge as national-caliber athletes this season. And then there are the newcomers that comprise the third-largest recruiting class in program history. Among them are some international athletes Layne expects to contend from Day 1.
Nathan Baker – who ran for Segrave’s old club in Middlesbrough, England – has already run a time in the 1500 that would have qualified him for the NAIA nationals. Layne also expects French hurdler Ronan Phillippot to be a factor on the national level as a freshman while Serbian middle distance runner Valentina Kenyeres will attempt to follow Segrave’s footsteps in the women’s 800.
While a successful chapter in the history of Milligan’s program has come to a close, Layne said he is excited to help the 66 athletes in his program pen the next chapter.
“It is exciting new to turn the page and have something new, have a new canvas, if you will,” Layne said. “It is super-energizing to look at what we’ve got coming in, to look at the potential we have returning.”