LEVELLAND, TX – Mark it down, and remember you heard about it here first: the Rend Lake College Warriors will win the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
At the rate they are going, that would seem to be a realistic forecast.
Seventh two years ago (2003) in just the team’s second spring season, Rend Lake College inched up to sixth in 2004.
Four-time National “Coach of the Year” Brent McLain set his goals even higher this go-around, believing the third-place trophy to be within his team’s grasp, but the Warriors were forced to continue their slow-but-steady rise to the top when they left Texas Wednesday as the No. 5 team in the country behind pre-meet favorite and runaway winner Central Arizona.
Another notch in the belts of their running shorts each of the next two tries would provide that elusive first outdoor trophy for third-place, and the Warriors could count on NJCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship No. 1 in 2009.
Enough speculation, however. Reality is indeed impressive in its own right for the preeminent Region XXIX representatives from downstate Illinois.
While Central Arizona was racing to wins in two of Monday’s three individual finals en route to a 43-20 lead over runner-up Rend Lake College and finishing with 158 total points, other title pretenders were jockeying for position behind the would-be champs. Host South Plains College moved into second after Tuesday‘s finals, trailing 80-44, and then held off third-place Barton County C.C., the fast-charging, seven-time defending champions from Kansas, 109-107, while Fall NJCAA Cross-Country Champion Paradise Valley C.C. (AZ) met the RLC Warrior challenge and escaped with fourth over the locals, 68.5-60.
Wallace State C.C. (AL) was sixth with 44 points, followed by Butler County C.C. (KS) in seventh with 43, Hutchinson C.C. (KS) eighth with 40, Johnson County (KS) ninth with 30 and Mesa C.C. (AZ) 10th with 27.5. A total of 24 teams scored points.
The Rend Lakers claimed a national championship Monday thanks to its 4 x 800 Meter Relay squad. The local quartet came into the meet with the best clocking all spring and lived up to its billing.
Sophomores Marcus Walton (Potosi, MO), Jason Craig (Huber Heights, OH) and Tim Clark (Indianapolis, IN), anchored by Freshman Eric Alberter (Belleville), blazed to victory in 7 minutes 37.64 seconds. Their time was just one second off their previous best and was more than five seconds ahead of second-place South Plains in 7:42.72.
During Wednesday’s finals, Craig and Alberter narrowly missed individual crowns.
Craig, a Junior World Record holder as a member last summer of the USA 4 x 400M Relay squad competing in Italy, posted the low 400M Run time in Tuesday’s prelims (:47.12) and bettered that on Wednesday with his :46.33.
Craig had to be satisfied with second, though, because he was beaten at the wire by Barton County’s Schafer Sherrer in :46.05.
Alberter knocked almost five seconds off his 800M Run time (1:55.15, sixth-fastest) in the prelims, but he, too, garnered eight points for the team by taking the runner-up spot in 1:50.85, behind the 1:50.60 of South Plains winner Reuben Twijukye. The third-place finisher was over a second and a half back.
Sophomore Justin Kunz (Lebanon), already a multiple All-America honoree in cross-country and both indoor and outdoor track, secured six points for McLain & Co. with a third-place showing in the 10,000M Run on Monday and returned Wednesday to take fifth, and four more team points, in the 5000M. His respective times were 32:08.59 and 15:48.26, between 45-53 seconds behind the winners.
Freshman Brad Middleton (Edwardsville) finished fourth in Tuesday’s 300M Steeplechase finals – his 9:54.97 good for five team points – and Clark nabbed two more points by taking seventh in 10:11.24.
Clark added a fifth in the 1500M. He came into the finals boasting the best time of the spring – 3:56.18 – but could not keep up the pace at the conclusion of three tense days of competition and settled for a 4:03.12. Winner Andrew Dawson of Central Arizona was clocked in 3:58.76.
The Warriors had three qualifiers in Monday’s Hammer Throw and tallied four points thanks to Sophomore Ben Kirkpatrick (Mulkeytown), who saved his P.R. (personal record) for Nationals with a fling of 47.81 meters, or 156 feet 10 inches, for the team’s initial fifth-place ranking.
Freshman Courtney Haywood (St. Louis) took fifth in the Discus Throw on Tuesday with his 51.67-meter effort (169-06).
The rest of Rend Lake College’s 29 Wednesday points came from the seventh-place showings of Freshman Edward Collins (Mantua, OH) in the Shot Put at 14.75 meters (48-04.75) and the 4 x 400M Relay squad of Freshman Anthony Flournoy (Gary, IN), Craig, Freshman Domonique Rolle (Freeport, Grand Bahamas) and Alberter in 3:12.25, in addition to a single point from Soph Rey Alvarez (Danville), eighth in the 500M Run in 15:53.04.
Competitive efforts which failed to produce team points, came from Alvarez and twin Jeremy Kunz (Lebanon), 10th and 11th, respectively, behind Justin Kunz in the 10,000M Run in 33:09.84 and 33:19.03; Hammer Throwers Collins, 10th at 45.38 meters (148-11), and Haywood, 12th at 42.96 (140-11) behind Kirkpatrick; Discus Throwers Collins, 12th at 46.44 (152-04) and Soph Kyle Ogden (Herrin), 14th at 44.39 (145-08).
Also Wednesday, Freshman Ellison “E.J.” Delva (Freeport, G.B.), 12th in the High Jump at 1.99 meters (6-06.25; Jeremy Kunz, 13th in the 5000M in 16:44.86, and Haywood, 15th in the Shot Put at 13.36 (43-10.0).
Failing to advance out of the preliminary round for Rend Lake College were Freshman Charles Howell (Westminster) in the 200M Dash after finishing 17th overall; Howell, 18th and classmate Floyd Davis Jr. (Calumet City), 28th, in the 100M Dash, and Freshman Kurt Heimann (Germantown) in the 800M Run, 23rd.
The outdoor finals wrapped up a very successful campaign for the Warrior thinclads.
In a combined field of former Division I and II entries, the three-time D-II Champion Warriors lost one of its standouts to injury, Ricky Alvarez, and settled for third behind Paradise Valley in the Fall NJCAA Cross-Country Championships.
This past March, Barton County had to pull out all the stops in a wild finish to capture its eighth consecutive NJCAA Indoor Track and Field crown with a heart-stopping, 108.5-107, victory over the upstart Ina Warriors.
Three-time Cross-Country “National Coach of the Year” McLain was named 2005 NJCAA Indoor “National Coach of the Year” even though his team did not win.