Senior Alex Whitford tied with two other athletes, placing eighth at the national meet. Whitford received All-American honors for her performance. (Photo: Alex Whitford / Courtesy)

Nine women and three men from Hillsdale College competed in the NCAA Division II Track and Field National Championships over spring break. This year, however, didn’t measure up to the past two years in terms of numbers or points. The women’s squad finished 33rd while the men came in 42nd. 

“The division has continued to get deeper. I also feel like we didn’t compete and prepare ourselves to compete throughout the year to the best of our abilities, either,” head coach Andrew Towne said. “I don’t know that we were on quite the urgent timetable that we needed to be on. This has been a transition year for us. I don’t think there is any shortage of talent. The year, just didn’t go the way we wanted it to and preparation plays a big role in that.”

Seven Chargers, however, earned All-American honors at the meet. Senior Caleb Gatchell took sixth nationally in the mile with a time of 4:08.62. This is his third All-American title.

Gatchell didn’t think he was going to make the finals in the event after running in the preliminaries. Once he did, however, he was determined to get a spot on the podium. 

“The key to nationals is you have to take it one race at a time. You have to race a prelim like it’s a final, then you have to do the same thing again,” Gatchell said. “I think I did a pretty good job of doing that.”

Gatchell said the meet was fast this year. To get into the meet, he said, runners had to race about three seconds faster than previous years.

“Any time you’re at a national meet, the level of competition is going to be very high. The meet as a whole was just quicker this year,” Gatchell said.

For the outdoor season, Gatchell wants to put himself in a good place early on so he doesn’t have to worry about ranking and simply work on improving his times.

Junior Hannah McIntyre took sixth in the women’s 5,000 meter, earning her fourth national title. She ran her season best time of 16:44.24. McIntyre was happy with her effort and ranking in the 5,000, though she was nervous going into it, because she had no teammates in the race with her. 

“It was stiff this year. In both of my races, I had to be really on it every second of the race. People make moves and you have to fight for your space,” McIntyre said. “You don’t really get an experience like that outside of nationals, but I knew to expect it from past years.”

The women’s distance medley relay of sophomore Allyson Eads, junior Hannah Watts, and seniors Molly Oren and Allison Duber took seventh with a total time of 11:34.08. Last year, Hillsdale’s relay was the national champion. With last year’s time, the relay would have placed second this year. As a testament to the rigid competition in the division, 11:34.08 earned them only two points this year. The top two teams shattered the Division-II record.

Senior Alex Whitford tied two other athletes to come in eighth in the pole vault with her jump of 12 feet, 4.5 inches. 

After a long journey to the All-American podium, Whitford emphasized her gratitude to the people that rallied behind her that week.

“I was excited and also I had an otherworldly kind of drive to do the best I could,” Whitford said. “I was a little unsure how I was going to be mentally, but it was really easy to be present in the moment and I feel like that confidence came from the support of my coach and my teammates and a lot of prayer.”

The pole-vault community is very tight-knit, even though the women only see each other at a few meets per year. Whitford expressed excitement in watching her friends perform well and seeing the NCAA championship meet record for pole vault broken by Courtney Crandall from the University of Sioux Falls. 

The teams will continue to train and refocus on fundamentals before the start of the outdoor season the weekend of April 1 in Texas, California, and Michigan. 

Towne said he’s looking forward to the outdoor season. 

“The beauty of track is that whether you have a good season or a bad season, the next season happens right away,” Towne said. “I feel really good about where we are at, it just took us longer to get there than I thought.”