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2019 Stevenson Indoor Track Preview mustangs' season shifts into high gear this weekend

With the Stevenson University indoor track and field season shifting into high gear this weekend as the Mustangs compete at Shenandoah’s Wilkins Invitational on Sunday, the program enters the winter in somewhat of an unfamiliar spot. While in the past, Stevenson was seen as an up-and-coming program, last season the men’s squad went out and captured the Middle Atlantic Conference championship, while the women finishes second. Now, the Mustangs know that other teams will be coming for them, rather than the other way around.

“We’ve talked about it briefly, and I think it’s something that we’re going to have to bring up more as the season goes on,” said Stevenson head coach Dave Berdan, who is in his first year in the top spot after previously serving as an assistant. “I mean, we do kind of have a target on our backs now, but I think our kids realize that just because (we won) once doesn’t mean it’s going to just happen again.”

The Mustangs return a plethora of talent on both the men’s and women’s side, with several members of each team harboring a realistic goal of qualifying for the NCAA Championship in Boston March 8-9.

“Our goal is to keep staying at the top of the conference, but then bring more and more people to nationals each year, because the more athletes who qualify and you can bring, the better chance you have of scoring,” said Berdan.

SPRINTS

The sprinting group figures to once again be a strength for the Mustangs. Last season, Stevenson qualified six sprinters into the 60 meter final on the men’s side while four runners scored in the 200, with most of that group back.

Kendall Belser took first in both the 100 and 200 at last season’s MAC outdoor championship and finished third in the 60 at the conference indoor meet a season ago. Dereck Davis finished second in last season’s 60 and was third in the 100 at the outdoor meet, while seniors Morgan Cheatham and Malcolm Hayward should also be factors. Cheatham took second in the 60 at the season-opening meet at Susquehanna.

“The sprints group has been really motivated and some of them surprised me and coach (Zach) Brown. They’ve put in a lot of work and haven’t missed a beat,”said Berdan.

For the women, junior Kimberly Hammond returns and should be once again one of the top runners in the conference and the region. She took home first in the 200 and third in the 100 at the MAC outdoor championship last season and first in both the 60 and 200 indoor finals. Picking up where she left off, Hammond took first in the 60 and second in the 200 in this season’s opener.

“Kim’s really fit right now and she’s excited and motivated,” said Berdan. “After that we have a few others who have been really pushing each other in practice to get better.”

MID-DISTANCE/DISTANCE

With the Mustangs coming off a strong cross country campaign in the fall, the distance group figures to be strong once again.

The men figure to be led by Patrick Watson, Langston Gash and Iddriss Iddriss. Watson, an All-American in cross country after finishing 15th at nationals, put down the top time in the 3K on the season’s opening weekend, a time that continues to stand No. 1. Gash finished second in the mile and fourth in both the 3K and 5K at last season’s MAC indoor championship, while Iddriss qualified for outdoor nationals in the 800 last season and opened this year’s campaign by taking first in the mile at the River Hawk Opener.

The women’s distance group is not as experienced, but is talented. Freshman Mikhayla Sabo was the MAC Rookie of the Year in cross country after finishing 14th at the conference championship. Sophomore Emily Gates was second in the 3K at the River Hawk Opener and earned All-Region honors in cross country after placing 28th at the regional meet. Kelly Winklbauer, working her way back from an injury sustained during cross country, should also be a factor, along with Achol Odolla.

FIELD EVENTS

The Mustang women bring back a bevy of experience throwers in Lauren Dioses, Kiarra Nowell, Jess Rega, Allison Bishop and Danika Ani.

Dioses took first in both the shot put and weight throw in this year’s opener and had three top five finishes in last season’s MAC indoor and outdoor championships combined. Nowell placed fourth in the shot put at last year’s outdoor event, while Rega was second in the same event and had a pair of top fives at the indoor meet. Bishop is the reigning MAC indoor weight throw champion, while Ani qualified for nationals in both indoor and outdoor two years ago. She was second in the shot ut and fourth in the weight throw at the MAC indoor championship in 2018.

Hammond also figures to factor prominently in jumps, along with sophomore Rachel Panek. Panek finished second in the pentathlon at the MAC indoor championship while taking first in the heptathlon at the outdoor meet.

For the men, Ritchie Case returns after winning the decathlon as a freshman at the MAC outdoor championship with 5,939 points. He took second in the long jump at this year’s season opener.

The Mustangs are a little more inexperienced on the men's side in jumps and throws, but Berdan expects the group to continue to develop as the season goes on.

"We do have some guys that we're looking to develop," said Berdan. "Overall, our goal is to make the program more balanced and we have some guys we're excited about that will help us do that."

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