Southern Oregon is sending 21 track and field athletes to Indiana this week with hopes for a program-best team finish at the 2013 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships hosted by Indiana Wesleyan University.
The championship meet begins this morning and concludes Saturday evening. After tying the program record with a sixth-place men's team finish in 2012, the Raiders are aiming for a top-five spot this year.
"The culmination of all our hard work comes to an end this week," SOU head coach Grier Gatlin said. "We're looking for some big individual performances for both the men and the women. Certainly on the men's side I think we have a chance at least to score the highest we've ever scored in the history of the program."
Last season the Raiders finished with nine All-American performances between the men's and women's programs, with the men's team totaling 33 points to match the 1989 and 2005 teams with a sixth-place ranking. Coming off its first Cascade Collegiate Conference championship since 2005 and with four men's athletes ranked in the top four of their respective events — including Eric Avila leading the way in the 800 — Gatlin believes a new program-best team finish is possible.
"We'd like to crack that top five and get the best finish ever," Gatlin said. "We'll see how things play out."
Joining the top-ranked Avila in the 1500 will be Kevin Jorgensen, ranked seventh in the event. Danny Parks ranks third in the discus and Zach Boyd-Helm ranks third in the 800. Jonz Olander is coming off his second consecutive Cascade Collegiate Conference Men's Track Athlete of the Championship Meet after claiming three individual titles at the meet and ranks fourth in the 400.
Sullivan Stevens is one of two returning NAIA All-Americans for SOU — along with Avila — and he ranks eighth in the 400 hurdles going into Thursday's event trials. Trevor Lynn ranks eighth in the steeplechase, while Hector Aleman ranks eighth and Brett Hornig ranks ninth in the marathon. Aleman will also compete in the 10,000.
Sam Hartinger will compete in the triple jump, while Jared Hixon will run in the 5,000 and Brandon Ritchie will participate in the decathlon. Nick Perrino will join Stevens, Boyd-Helm and Olander on the Raiders' 4x400 relay squad.
On the women's side, Amelia Maguin can make her mark in the 400 hurdles as she comes into the meet ranked third in the event. Alexandra Rudd ranks seventh in the 10,000 and 10th in the marathon. Holly Haga ranks 11th in the discus and Mikayla Garrard ranks 12th in the 400, so both will be looking to climb the ranks into the top eight to earn All-American honors.
Anne Hagy will join Rudd in the women's 10,000 and Rebecca Lupescu will run in the 5,000. Jessie Rozario will participate in the steeplechase and Stephanie Techler rounds out the women's squad in the pole vault.
After claiming 12 individual event titles and earning 30 all-conference performances two weeks ago, the Raiders are peaking as the season concludes. Gatlin believes his athletes are ready to go but knows that anything can happen at the national meet.
"You never know how things are going to play out," Gatlin said. "Weather is a factor; travel is a factor and there are a bunch of uncontrollable factors that play into it. But I think that we're really really ready to have a big meet and we're certainly very excited to head back."