The Walsh University men's and women's track and field programs have been in a chase position the past several seasons.

The Walsh University men’s and women’s track and field programs have been in a chase position the past several seasons.

As all of the school’s athletic programs transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II competition, each team on campus has dealt with its own battle to adjust to an elevated level of competition. On the track, that has been a large battle and one head coach Rob Mizicko and his athletes are still fighting.

“Mostly it’s all young kids because we just now converted to Division II, so we’re just now starting to see that caliber of athlete coming in,” Mizicko said of the team’s young roster.

Youth is a common word in Mizicko’s vocabulary when speaking about his team, with the men’s team featuring just one senior and the women’s team even younger. A dearth of veterans and upperclassmen might create the impression of a team lacking in leadership, but Mizicko insisted that’s not the case.

“These kids were all outstanding, top-notch, state-level kids in high school, so they were all great leaders at the high school level,” Mizicko said. “They’ve all taken that family attitude and they’ve all become one. Leadership kind of takes over and you don’t have to have a senior to have leadership.”

The men’s team’s sole senior, senior sprinter Craig Dougherty, is the only athlete who remembers what Mizicko calls the “old way” and the third-year coach credits him with doing a good job of passing his lessons learned on to the underclassmen.

Those underclassmen have proven capable in the early stretches of the outdoor season. The Cavaliers took an 11-person contingent to the Raleigh Relays in Raleigh, N.C. two weeks ago and despite colder-than-expected temperatures, the results were encouraging. Competing against both Division I and II programs, Walsh athletes turned in some of their best times of the season and left encouraged by what they saw.

Opportunities to run in such events and this week’s Bison Classic at Bucknell University are chances to test themselves against the best of the best and that fits perfectly with the idea of climbing the ladder in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC). One of the team’s goals is scoring more points in the GLIAC meet this year and over the next few seasons, battling its way into the upper half of the conference.

Several athletes have stepped up through the first few weeks of the season for the women, including Kaitlin Barber, who nearly hit the provisional mark indoors for pole vault, missing an automatic berth at the NCAA Division II national championship meet by one spot.

Other competitors who have been strong in the early going have been Mikayla Dearing, Hannah Luke, Katie Mokros, Meredith Fennell and Mizicko expects big things from all of them the rest of the season.

Sherman Kortze (400 meters), Ben Lehotay and Dan Siebenaller have been similarly solid on the men’s side and one of the team’s most consistent runners has been freshman Tristan Williams, who placed sixth in the 800 meters at the conference at the indoor championships.

Mizicko believes the indoor season prepared the team well for the outdoor session, but admitted that the weather has made life challenging in recent weeks.

“You just do what you have to do. We move some things indoors if we can. We ran a full indoor season so the kids are already pretty prepared … you put the stocking cap on and the gloves on and just fight through it,” Mizicko said.

The cold is toughest on sprinters, according to Mizicko, because they have to be thoroughly warmed up and perform in short bursts for their events. Distance runners can take longer to warm up because their events are staged over longer periods of time and don’t require the same concentrated surge of activity.

There are plenty of hurdles to clear for the Cavaliers both in terms of the elements and on the track, but raising their level of competition is an endeavor both teams are excited about and ready to tackle.

“They like the big meets. This is the first time we ever went to Raleigh and the 11 kids that we took down there, they loved it,” Mizicko said. “Just to be able to line up against all of the (Division I) schools is something special and that’s what we look forward to.”

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