On the biggest stage that DIII Track and Field has to offer, Bates Track and Field delivered some of the strongest performances of the meet. Overall, the team placed 13th out of 109 teams. The women were seeded in three different events: Ayden Eickhoff ’19, ranked in the top 10 nationally, in the 800m, while Katie Barker ‘19 qualified for a particularly competitive 3000m field.
Additionally, the Distance Medley Relay (DMR), composed of Vanessa Paolella ’21, Amanda Kaufman ’21, Elise Lambert ’22, and Eickhoff, was also set to compete. Johnny Rex ’21 was the sole representative for the Bates men, qualifying for a very deep weight throw field.
Barker led off for Bates, running a lifetime PR of 9:54.7 in the preliminary race, earning her a spot in the finals the following day. Eickhoff followed in the 800m preliminary, placing second with a time of 2:11.8, good for an automatic qualification for the finals the next day.
Eickhoff then doubled back to join her teammates in the DMR later that night, where the group ran one of the best races in recent Bates Track and Field history. Paolella was able to give the group a tremendous start, passing the baton to Kaufman, who ran a great 400m leg to help Bates stay competitive going into the 800m and 1600m legs. Lambert ran yet another outstanding 800m, passing the baton to Eickhoff who, despite doubling after a very fast 800m preliminary race earlier that day, managed to run all the way to the front, leading the race heading into the final 200m.
The Bates DMR entered the NCAA’s as the seventh seed and while very talented on paper, not many would’ve picked them to be leading with just 200m to go. Eickhoff was run down by an extremely talented Brandeis miler (who went on to win the mile finals on Sunday), she held off the rest of the field by five meters and split 4:49, giving the Bobcats a second place finish (11:43.51) and All-American honors at NCAAs.
“Finishing second in the DMR was so great just because of how genuinely happy they all were at that moment,” Coach Jay Hartshorn said. “We were all just hoping to be all American and to come in second and break the school record was just awesome mostly because it was so unexpected.”
The following day, Barker would go on to finish ninth in the nation, an extremely impressive finish given the quality of the field. Eickhoff ran yet again, running a lifetime PR and school record of 2:11.37, finishing third and adding another All-American honor to her collection.
“It was an absolute dream to compete at nationals,” Lambert said. “The energy in the facility was immense and it was an amazing experience to compete at such a high level.”
While Lambert competed in the DMR, she had also posted a top ten ranked time in the 800m going into NCAAs. However, she and Coach Jay decided to forgo the individual race in favor of keeping the DMR more competitive. Commenting on the DMR, Lambert said that the biggest emotion she felt regarding their historic finish was “excitement…I was so surprised by our finish and so proud of my teammates.”
Given that three of the four legs of the DMR are sophomores or younger, plan on the group making a return trip to nationals or two over the next few years. On the men’s side, Johnny Rex threw 17.10m in the weight throw, giving him a 19th place finish.
While Rex was not quite at his all-time best of 18.22m, he has had an unbelievable season and progression from his first-year season.
As the youngest competitor in the field, Rex has to be regarded as one of the best up-and-coming throwers in the nation and a significant threat to do real damage both this upcoming outdoor track season and in the years to follow.
Overall, these championships can be regarded as one of Bates’ best in recent memory. Two top-three performances, five total All-American honors, and competing as the youngest weight thrower at NCAA’s, this indoor season has been a massive success for both the men’s and women’s programs.