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Blue Hawks build a solid baseline for indoor track season

The Dickinson State 2019 indoor track and field season officially kicked off at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., on Friday, Jan. 11, but head coach Shayne Wittkopp emphasized that it wasn't a true-to-life example of how his team w...

The Dickinson State 2019 indoor track and field season officially kicked off at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D., on Friday, Jan. 11, but head coach Shayne Wittkopp emphasized that it wasn't a true-to-life example of how his team will compete in the future.

Only part of the team traveled, and those who did ran in events they typically won't later on in the season.

"I told the kids when we got off the bus, today is our fifth practice," Wittkopp said of the meet. "I didn't expect them to win a world championship right now, but I expected them to go out and compete as hard as they could and just get a baseline."

Many found themselves at a solid starting point, as sophomore Taylor Ludwig won the women's 400-meter dash with a time of one minute, 2.21 seconds.

"I definitely think it was a good start," Ludwig said. "Over Christmas break, I put in a lot of work so I would be ready for that first meet because it is such a fast turnaround when you get back and only have five practices. I feel like it was a good baseline. I feel like a lot of people started really well and we'll have a good season."

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When the Blue Hawks compete again on Jan. 26, back at Black Hills State, they'll take a more complete roster and will spread out the talent through more events.

In Spearfish, across both teams, Dickinson State had 11 runners in the 400-meter dash. Meanwhile, just two competed in the 60- and 200-meter sprints, both women. The long-distance races were empty of Blue Hawks on the men's side, but at least one woman in gray and blue took part in the mile and 3,000-meter run. Wittkopp says that's simply because a lot of the men are coming off a cross country season or football season and aren't ready to compete yet, one of them being senior sprinter Cain Boschee.

Wittkopp expects Boschee, who was named to the NAIA All-America second team this fall, to have a "fantastic year."

Fellow football and track All-American Jay Liggins will not be with the team this year, as he's focusing on furthering his football career. While his absence leaves a gap in the jumping events, Wittkopp is confident Cleet Wrzesinski will have little trouble taking the lead on long jump, while senior Tyler Quilling continues his terrific triple jump career.

"I definitely think I grew a little bit this year," Quilling said of his leadership role. "Jay Liggins isn't here right now, so I definitely have to take on all the jumpers instead of sharing it with Jay. We have a really good time. I'm pretty close with all of them."

After jumping a few inches shy of the NAIA nationals indoor qualifying mark in Bismarck, Quilling earned a mark of 44 feet, 9 ¾ inches at Black Hills State, a distance he said he was pleased with at this point of the season.

"I thought it was a great starting point. That's definitely something to build off of in the beginning of the season," he said. "Honestly, it was maybe a little farther than I expected to go this early in the season for indoor."

Last season, Wrzesinski was an All-American in both the indoor heptathlon and the outdoor decathlon. After a win in the 60-meter hurdles in Spearfish, a second-place finish in long jump and a speedy split in the Dickinson State 1,600 meter relay team, the sophomore is off to a good start.

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"He's just a fantastic athlete. He can do anything you ask him to do," Wittkopp said. "He keeps getting better and better at the pole vault, which is probably his weakness."

Senior Tommy Sease, who is using his final college athletics eligibility, set a personal record in pole vault at Black Hills State with a jump of 12 feet, 9 ½ inches.

"Who knows what that kid will do," Wittkopp said. "He's in phenomenal shape. If he can get through the hurdles clean and get a decent long jump, you don't know what he's going to be able to do (in the indoor heptathlon)."

On the women's side, Wittkopp has "high hopes" for freshman thrower Macradee Miller. Hurling the shot put 36 feet, 10 ½ inches, Miller earned fourth in the event. In a small meet in Bismarck ahead of the holidays, Miller won the same event.

The biggest challenge during the winter, is keeping the distance runners in shape. Still, Wittkopp is pleased where his athletes are at. Senior Brittney Grove finished seventh in the 3K with a time of 11:52.93, and senior Jacey Wilson earned seventh in the mile, clocking in at 5:44.3.

On the men's side, many who ran the 400 will start to compete in the 800, mile and the 3K in the near future.

"Long slow runs, I literally write up the days of the week and the temperature that day and we kind of program around Mother Nature a little bit," Wittkopp explained. "We have a really strong female middle and long distance team right now. The men's team, we got some dudes there too. It's a little bit more challenging for them."

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