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History of the Elizabethtown College Men’s and Women’s Track & Field Program
Pictured: Members of the men's & women's teams rehash the second day of the 2006 MAC Outdoor Championships at Widener.
It took the Elizabethtown College men’s track & field program less time to capture a conference championship than any other program in the College’s athletic history. On March 1, 2003, the Blue Jays won their first Middle Atlantic Conference Indoor Track & Field Championship title. What made the accomplishment especially remarkable was that 2003 was only Etown’s fourth season of varsity competition. The men’s team has gone on to win every conference indoor track & field title since. 2006 marked the team’s fourth year in a row as MAC Indoor Track & Field Champions.
Remarkably, the track & field program does not have an indoor facility in which to practice and compete. Instead, the Blue Jays make the most of south-central Pennsylvania’s occasionally moderate temperatures or train in a very narrow and short hallway with the sprinters/jumpers/hurdlers and a racquetball room for the throwers. Elizabethtown College coaches accept no excuses, and even with these primitive facilities, athletes have produced national-caliber performances in the skill events. For example, All-Americans Kevin Clark ’08 (16’5-1/2” in the pole vault), Jason Patterson (48’9” in the triple jump), and Carrie Kerna ’04 (8.21 in the 55m high hurdles) have all finished in the top eight at the NCAA Division III Indoor Track & Field Championships before going on to better performances during the outdoor season. These remarkable performances were accomplished with carefully planned out and creative training schedules using the limited indoor space available for the Blue Jays during the winter months.
The Etown track & field program began as a club team in 1998-99 and had its first varsity campaign in 1999-00. The focus has been on building well-balanced men’s and women’s track & field programs with an emphasis on having both the depth and quality needed to compete for conference titles and compete with the top 20 NCAA Division III track & field programs in the United States. And with all six sports (men’s and women’s cross country included) having finished in the top 15 at the NCAA Championships since 2004 and 14 total conference team titles to their names—one could argue that Elizabethtown College has arrived!
With each successive year both teams accomplish new and exciting feats, but the 2003-04 academic year stands out as the first truly banner year for men’s and women’s track & field programs. This is true for several reasons. The men’s indoor track & field team defended its Middle Atlantic Conference Indoor title. From there, Melissa St. Clair ’05 went on the finish third in the 5000m, and Carrie Kerna ’04 finished as the National Runner-Up in the 55m high hurdles at the 2004 NCAA Division III Indoor Track & Field Championships held at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Their combined score resulted in a 13th place team finish at the NCAA Championships.
During the 2004 outdoor track & field season, the women’s 4X400m relay team won the MAC/Centennial section at the prestigious Penn Relays Carnival for the first time ever. The Elizabethtown College’s women’s 4X400m relay team has gone on to successfully defend its title in each of the three years since, with their best-ever time of 3:57.64 coming in 2006. Then in early May, the men’s outdoor track & field team achieved possibly its greatest feat with a 1-1/2 point victory, 167-165.5, over Susquehanna University at the 2004 MAC Outdoor Track & Field Championships held at Messiah College. Winning the men’s outdoor conference title was the final accomplishment in picking up a rare “Triple Crown” (conference championships in cross country, indoor track & field, and outdoor track & field in a single academic year).
From there, a large contingent of track & field athletes went on to qualify for and compete in the 2004 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships held at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. Three athletes narrowly missed winning national titles with Dave Berdan ’04 (10,000m), Melissa St. Clair ’05 (10,000m), and Carrie Kerna ’04 (100m high hurdles) all finishing in second place to earn All-American status. Triple jumper Pablo Callejas ’04 and long jumper Mike Bauer ’07 both finished in fourth place in their respective events and the combined scores (along with Berdan’s All-American 5000m performance) yielded a sixth place team finish for the men’s team. Kerna (100m high hurdles and 400m intermediate hurdles) and St. Clair (5000m and 10,000m) teamed up for a 15th place finish for the women’s team. The men’s track & field team, therefore, finished sixth in the nation in just its sixth year of existence. This was simply an amazing and possibly unparalleled feat in all of collegiate track & field.
The women’s track & field team had finished fourth or better at the MAC T&F Championships every year since 2001, but not until the 2006 Indoor MAC Track & Field Championships did their first team victory take place. A relatively young team led by senior Erin Lichti ’06 brought home the conference title for the first time ever. Success occurred on the national level in 2006 for the women’s team as well. Both the women’s 4X100m (48.53) and 4X400m (3:57.64) relays posted NCAA Division III provisional qualifying times, but neither squad ran quite fast enough to make the cut-off for the national championships. However, Lichti’s victorious 200m time (25.09) ran at the MAC Outdoor Track & Field Championships was fast enough to make the cut. Entering the 2006 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships held at Benedictine University near Chicago, Illinois, Lichti was seeded 20th in the nation. She saved her best-ever race for last and in the preliminary round ran a personal best and school record time of 24.90. It was the first time she broke the 25-second barrier, and she finished tenth in the nation—just one place shy of making the finals and two places shy of All-American status.
Individually, 59 men have won a gold, silver, and/or bronze medal at the MAC Track & Field Championships and thus earned First-Team All-MAC honors during their career. An exclusive group of six men earned at least one medal at the conference championships all four years: Dave Berdan ’04 (outdoor), Darren DeAngelis ’06 (indoor), Jose Miranda ’05 (outdoor), Sean Mulcahy ’04 (indoor), Steve Sanko ’05 (indoor and outdoor), and Greg Wetzel ’06 (indoor). An impressive group of ten men have achieved 13 All-America performances at the NCAA T&F Championships in a variety of events. All-Americans include Mike Bauer ’07 (long jump), Dave Berdan ’04 (5000m and 10,000m), Pablo Callejas ’04 (triple jump), Kevin Clark ’08 (pole vault), Darren DeAngelis ’06 (400m intermediate hurdles), Patrick Donovan ’07 (800m and DMR), Stephon Finley ’09 (DMR), Drew Graybeal ’08 (DMR), Tyson Evensen ’07 (800m and DMR) and Jason Patterson (triple jump). Both Berdan (10,000m @ 2004 NCAA Division III Outdoor T&F Championships) and Clark (pole vault @ 2006 NCAA Division III Outdoor T&F Championships) have finished as National Runners-Up.
Individually, 48 women have won a gold, silver, and/or bronze medal at the MAC Track & Field Championships and thus earned First-Team All-MAC honors during their career. The exclusive group of five women to earn at least one medal at the conference championships all four years includes: Betsy Burroughs ’05 (indoor and outdoor), Carrie Kerna ’04 (indoor and outdoor), Erin Lichti ’06 (outdoor), Casey Moser ’04 (indoor), and Kim Whalen ’06 (indoor). Kerna accomplished one of the more amazing individual accomplishments in Etown track & field history when she won every MAC championship high hurdles race in which she ever competed. Kerna won eight MAC gold medals, winning all 55m high hurdle (MAC Indoor T&F Championships) and 100m high hurdle (MAC Outdoor T&F Championships) races from 2001-04. Between Carrie Kerna ’04 (55m high hurdles, 100m high hurdles, and 400 intermediate hurdles) and Melissa St. Clair ’05 (5000m and 10,000m), seven All- America performances were racked up between 2004 and 2005. Both Kerna (55m high hurdles and 100m high hurdles) and St. Clair (10,000m) finished National Runners-Up at the 2004 NCAA Track & Field Championships.
The track & field teams have been very successful in the classroom as well, having always recorded cumulative team grade point averages of 3.0 or better. Recently, the Middle Atlantic Conference began to award the very best senior overall student-athlete in each sport with the MAC Scholar-Athlete award. Elizabethtown College men’s and women’s track & field student-athletes to receive this prestigious award are: Sean Mulcahy (Men’s Outdoor Track & Field, 2004), Steve Sanko (Men’s Outdoor Track & Field, 2005), Melissa St. Clair (Women’s Outdoor Track & Field, 2005), Greg Wetzel (Men’s Cross Country, 2005), Kim Whalen (Women’s Outdoor Track & Field, 2006) and Erin Lichti (Women’s Indoor Track & Field, 2006). Also, St. Clair was named a CoSIDA Second Team Academic All-American in 2004, and Chris Williams '05 received an NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship in 2005.
Throughout most of the indoor and outdoor seasons, the track & field team focuses on individual improvement without much thought to team scores. In fact, many collegiate invitationals today do not even keep team scores for this very reason. However, the focus shifts twice each year as the schools in the Middle Atlantic Conference compete at the conference indoor and outdoor championships.
Head men’s and women’s coach Chris Straub (men’s distance and mid-distance) and assistant coaches Mike Dager (women’s distance and mid-distance), Joel Hoffsmith (men’s and women’s jumps and multi-events), Aaron Lyle (men’s and women’s sprints/hurdles/relays), and Eric Bennett (men’s and women’s throws, pole vault, and multi-events) combine for one of the best coaching staffs in NCAA Division III. A large part of their formula for success is a challenging and carefully planned out training and competition schedule. Some athletes focus on peaking at the MAC outdoor championships, while others are in search of meeting the NCAA Division III qualifying standards and competing at the national championships.
In recent years, a half-million dollar outdoor track & field only complex was constructed at Elizabethtown College. The beautiful track & field complex is centrally located on campus next to the gymnasium and directly behind the Chapel and Lake Placida. The eight-lane synthetic track features wide turns (110m turns and 90m straight-a-ways), multiple runways for the pole vault and horizontal jumps, and throwing circles on the infield of the track. The Blue Jays hosted their first meet at the complex in April 2004. The Elizabethtown College facility will play host to the 2007 MAC Outdoor Track & Field Championships May 3-5, 2007. It seems certain that with a focused recruiting effort, the addition of the outdoor track & field complex, and a talented group of coaches and returning athletes, the future looks even brighter for Etown’s track & field program.
Updated July, 2006