By Josh Neuhart
Grace College Sports Information
GULF SHORES, Ala. – The record-breaking year for Grace’s track and field team will conclude this week.
The Lancers will send 24 athletes to the season-ending 2021 NAIA National Championships. Grace will have athletes spread throughout four relays and several individual events at the three-day meet, held May 26-28 in Gulf Shores, Ala.
“Everyone in our group has had a fantastic season, including All-Crossroads League and NCCAA All-American honors. However, because of COVID cutting short last season, this is the first trip to the outdoor national championships for many of them,” said Grace head coach Jeff Raymond.
Relays have been a strength of the Lancer squads this year, and four separate relay teams will compete this week. The men’s 4×800-meter relay is coming off consecutive All-American performances at the past two NAIA Indoor Championships, and is looking to add the same honor outdoors. The foursome of Luke Smith, Tanner Sallee, Isaac Beatty and Kyle Smith – along with possible alternates Maurice Macklin and Logan Rufenacht – enter the championships ranked seventh in the NAIA.
“We are blessed with a very deep middle distance squad,” Raymond said. “We could run a couple of different lineups and still perform very well. This group is focused on challenging at the front of the pack, and I’m confident they will be ready to compete.”
The women’s 4×800 relay qualified for the first time ever, as did the men’s and women’s 4×100 relays. The 4×800 consists of Kaitlyn Mack, Makenzie Adams, Liz Moore and Heather Plastow, and they will look to better the school record that they set just last week.
The men’s 4×100 hit the qualifying mark a week ago at the NCCAA Championships and should continue to improve. The relay group consists of three freshmen – Isaac Findley, Michael Williams and Braden Smith – along with junior John Green.
The women’s 4×100 squad of Lyne Camara, Nordia Campbell, Zoe Huley and Gracious O’Connor have repeatedly bettered the school record throughout this season. They enter the NAIA meet ranked 10th.
Isaac Brown leads the way for the individual competitors. He has earned indoor NAIA All-American recognition the past two years in the high jump and is currently tied for the third-best jump in the NAIA this season at 6-feet-11 (2.11 meters). Dimitri Margaritidis will compete in the 1,500, and Bryan Hernandez-Rios will run the 5,000.
For the women, Camara enters the meet seeded eighth in the 400, while Campbell and O’Connor will both compete in the 200. Plastow made the field in the 1,500, and Mallory Hiatt looks to better her qualifying time in the 10,000.
“The quality of the NAIA championships continues to get better, and I’m proud that our kids have stepped up and have given themselves the chance to compete on the national stage,” Raymond said. “After a crazy year that continues to be affected by COVID and different protocols, this group has found a way to succeed and perform at a high level.”