The two-day G‑MAC Conference Championship for the Hillsdale College Women’s Track and Field team was a heated competition that came down to what head coach Andrew Towne called the buzzer-beater of track and field: the 4‑by-400m relay.
“We went into that meet down about 40 or 50 points on paper,” Towne said. “We just hadn’t shown exactly who we were yet.”
Throughout the meet, however, the Chargers kept proving to themselves and the competition who they really were.
Going into the final two events of the meet, the Chargers were second to Tiffin, the host of the meet and the defending NCAA Division II team champions, by scary 24 points. But the Chargers rose to the challenge in the 3,000 meter run. They dominated the event, placing four girls in the top five spots and not allowing Tiffin to score.
Senior Arena Lewis led her distance crew with a second place finish and a time of 10:07.81. She was followed by junior Maryssa Depies who ended third (10:10.57), junior Christina Sawyer in fourth (10:10.77), and freshman Gwynne Riley finished fifth in 10:12.91.
“It was an exciting race because I led for awhile and then my teammates passed me,” Sawyer said. “It’s scary when you see you’re getting passed, but then when you see it’s someone in blue, you know you can play off each other.”
This performance by the Chargers earned them 23 points which put them only .66 points behind Tiffin heading into the final event.
The women’s 4‑by-400m relay, made up of sophomore Alanna O’Leary, and freshmen Judith Allison, Jillian Roney, and Dakota Stamm, just had to beat Tiffin to seal the victory — and they did by four whole seconds ending in 3:58.04.
“We kept the focus on our performance and it came down to the last leg of the last event,” Towne said. “When Roney handed off to Stamm, we were right there. And then Stamm just broke that girl.”
This performance gave the women their second indoor track G‑MAC Conference Championship title since joining the conference for the 2017 – 18 season. They won by a final score of 149 to Tiffin’s 147.66, a 1.33 point separation.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Towne said. “I don’t use this lightly, but from top to bottom it was the stuff of legends and it’s the kinda thing we will be talking about for a long time.”
But a lot of athletes had to put in hard work throughout the two days to get to that championship moment.
“When you win by 1.33, everyone matters and every single thing is important,” Towne said.
Sawyer won a G‑MAC title in the 5,000 meter run with a time of 17:38.17 the day before her 3000m race.
“I felt really good about the race and it was fun to run with the other three girls on my team that did really well,” Sawyer said.
She was followed by sophomore Claire McNally who ended fourth running 17:59.64. Taking fifth and sixth, were freshman Meg Scheske and sophomore Sophia Maeda, running 18:00.27 and 18:15.02, respectively.
Sophomore Nikita Maines won another G‑MAC title for the Chargers with a new personal best in the 20 kg weight throw (17.7 meters). Maines also threw for seventh in the shot put with a throw of 13.53 meters.
Kajsa Johansson continued her dominant season at the conference championship, winning the 200 meter dash for the second year in a row with a time of 24.76 seconds.
“Her 200 meter run was incredible,” Towne said. “I bet you there’s not five people in the country who can do what she did there.”
She’ll have a chance to compete against the rest of the nation at the NCAA Division II National meet next weekend in this event, as her title-winning time from Saturday was fast enough to qualify her for the meet.
“What helped me perform well was trusting the process and staying motivated throughout the season leading up to conference,” Johansson said. “I felt so proud of my whole team, every individual contributed so much to the team as a whole.”
Johansson also took third in the 60 meter dash, with a speedy time of 7.61, breaking her own school record in that event.
In the field, sophomore Michaela Burkhauser threw 16.63 meters in the weight throw and ended fifth all conference. She also ended fifth in the shot put (13.77 meters), earning more points toward the Charger victory.
Freshman jumper Emily Gerdin triple jumped 10.98 meters to end fourth, and took sixth place in the long jump with a mark of 5.37 meters.
Back on the track, many of the distance stars from the 3k doubled up on events. Depies ran the mile to end third with a time of 5:04.45, while Lewis earned fourth place running 5:05.18.
Riley ran for third in the 800 meter run with a time of 2:15.95, and junior Calli Townsend ended sixth in the 800 meter run, running the race in 2:18.59.
“I’ve been surprised with how quickly [Riley’s] developed for a freshman,” Towne said. “We relied on a lot of freshmen this meet, but what we put her through this meet was really tough, especially for a freshman. She was impressive.”
Another solid freshman performance came from Stamm, who placed second in the 400 meter run with a time of 58.07 and fifth in the 200 meter dash in 26.33.
Roney ended her first indoor season sixth in the 60 meter hurdles with a time of 9.21. She also took eighth in the 60 meter dash with a time of 7.92 seconds.
Allison ran for eighth in the 60 meter hurdles with a time of 9.54 seconds. She also competed with Stamm in the 400 meter run and ended eighth (1:00.49). Junior Carmen Botha took fifth in the 60m hurdles with a time of 9.20 seconds. And O’Leary took bronze in the 400 meter dash with a time of 59.08 seconds.
The distance medley relay, made up of junior Megan Poole, sophomore Amber Mango, freshman Allison Nimtz, and senior Addison Rauch, also snagged fourth all conference with a time of 12:45.42.
Overall, Towne said he could not have been more proud of his athletes and the heart and strength they showed throughout all he asked of them over the two-day period.
“I was thinking on the ride home from the meet, I’ve never heard or seen anything like that meet,” he said.
The Chargers will send Johansson and Maines down to Birmingham, Alabama on March 13 and 14 to compete in the NCAA Division II Track and Field Championships, while the rest of the team begins to prepare for the upcoming outdoor season.