Track and Field team ready to make headlines in 2004
By Scott Van Eman, SID assistant
February 26, 2004
After an eventful off-season, including the departure of the head coach, Bluffton is prepared to remain the college's most successful Heartland Conference competitor in 2004. Although the Beavers have placed higher at the HCAC Championship meet in each of the last three years, one thing has alluded them, a conference championship. In 2004, the Bluffton College men's and women's track team are ready to take the challenge head on.
Bluffton's first hurdle of the 2004 track and field season was saying goodbye to their head coach of the past three years, Derek Stanley. Stanley was the catalyst behind Bluffton's dramatic improvements over the past three seasons. "He'll be missed. Derek did a good job building the program to what it is today," said interim head coach and former assistant Nate Smith. The Beavers remain in good hands with Smith, who has more head coaching experience then the average assistant. Besides his four years of experience coaching track and field, Smith was the acting head coach for several track athletes last season. In previous years Stanley and Smith split the squad based on events giving Smith complete control over nearly half the team. He is not worried about those athletes who he didn't oversee last year stating, "Our athletes are focused athletes."
Building on their 2003 3rd place finish in the Heartland Conference the 2004 men's track team is closer than ever to reaching their championship goal. The men will rely on a strong core of sprinters to provide the leadership a championship team requires. Leading the way will be 2002 HCAC 100m dash champion, senior Ryan Nusbaum (Pandora/Pandora-Gilboa), 2003 HCAC 110m hurdles and 400m hurdles 2nd place finisher, junior Troy Baumer (Geneva, Ind./South Adams), 2003 HCAC 200m dash 4th place finisher, junior Jason Lehman (Berne, Ind./South Adams H.S.), and 2003 HCAC 400m dash 2nd place finisher, sophomore Al Pearson (New Bremen/New Bremen). Bluffton also looks promising in long distance with 2003 HCAC 800m run 3rd place finisher Dan Rosebrock (Napoleon/Napoleon) returning for his second year. Bluffton will look to improve their field events in 2004, building off of strong conference performances last season by junior Fred Yoder (Millersburg/Hiland).
Thirty-three is the magic number for the 2004 women's track team this season. The 2003 Beavers were just 33 team points away from conference champion Defiance and a mere six points away from conference runner-up Anderson . Bluffton will look to get those 33 points and then some in their 2004 campaign. Leading the way for the Bluffton women will be 2003 HCAC freshman-of-the-year Rita Muether (Celina/Celina). Muether posted three top five finishes at the HCAC championships last season including a victory in the 400m run. HCAC 100m dash 2nd place finisher and 200m dash 3rd place finisher, junior Jana Hammer (Hamler/Patrick Henry) will also be relied on heavily this season. Bluffton will have the hurdle events covered in 2004 with returning 2002 HCAC 400m hurdles champion, junior Amanda Habegger (Berne, Ind./South Adams) and 2003 HCAC 100m hurdles 2nd place finisher and 400m hurdles 3rd place finisher, junior Laurel Miller (Galion/Colonel Crawford). The Beavers will also feature a strong distance running core helmed by sophomore Lauren Borga (New Philadelphia/New Philadelphia) and a strong group of jumpers led by Miller and sophomores Welch and Dravenstott. Michele Bailey (Spencerville/Spencerville) will lead Bluffton in the throws this year.
With three consecutive years of improvement under their belt nothing seems impossible for the Beavers in 2004. When coach Nate Smith came to Bluffton three years ago he believed drastic improvement was possible. Now he believes the "pieces are in place" for the Beavers to reach their ultimate goal of conference championships for the men and women. "Our success is a testament to the work put in by our athletes", remarked Smith. This year the Beavers believe they have what it takes to make it happen.