TERRE HAUTE —
The Rose-Hulman men’s track and field program has become so consistently good that not winning the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference outdoor championship this weekend at Hanover would be considered a huge disappointment.
After all, the male Engineers captured that title in 2008, 2009 and 2010, then claimed the inaugural HCAC indoor crown two months ago at Columbus, Ohio.
Seriously, wouldn’t it be a major letdown — kind of like a bad sequel to a movie — for Rose not to repeat as champion?
“Yeah, it would be,” senior sprinter Paul Bouagnon admitted before practice Tuesday. “Hopefully, I can get my fourth [championship] ring before I graduate.”
Several weeks ago, Rose-Hulman was declared the preseason favorite to emerge victorious in this meet. Since the Engineers started competing outdoors March 19, they’ve done nothing to make that prediction look inaccurate.
Posting conference-best times/distances for Rose so far have been junior Sutton Coleman (triple jump, 400-meter run, 110-meter hurdles and 400-meter hurdles), senior Derek Bischak (1,500 meters), senior Tyler Kreipke (5,000 meters), sophomore Collin Crowson (pole vault), sophomore Greg Larmore (hammer throw) and its 4x400 relay.
“I think we’ve got things going in the right direction this year,” Coleman said. “We’ve got a lot of guys running really well right now. I think, collectively as a team, we can definitely win it.”
“I think we’ve done pretty well for ourselves,” Bouagnon assessed. “We set goals at the beginning of the [indoor] season and we do the workouts week after week to get us to those goals. We did pretty well in the indoor season. We won the conference championship. Now we’re ready to do the same thing in the outdoor.”
Asked if this is the best men’s track team he’s seen since he debuted at Rose-Hulman two years ago, Coleman replied: “I’d like to think so.”
“I think we’ve got a lot of people who are starting to peak toward the end,” he continued. “We’ve had good teams in the past and good leadership in the past and I think that carries through every year… It really comes down to leadership on how we do.”
Meanwhile, head coach Larry Cole credits “good coaching and a commitment from the student-athletes” as key reasons for the men’s success.
And he wasn’t necessarily referring to his own coaching.
“We’ve got a great coaching staff,” he emphasized. “My son Matt coaches the sprinters, the hurdlers and the jumpers. He’s one of the top young coaches in the country in [NCAA] Division III. He does a great job with those kids. Christy [Barrett] Sherman is probably one of the best throws coaches in all of Division III.”
Then there are the dedicated athletes and it helps to have plenty of them. Remember, Rose doesn’t cut anybody who tries out for the men’s or women’s team and fulfills all of the practice requirements.
“We call it an ‘equal-opportunity program,’ ” Larry Cole said. “We take kids who want to enjoy the sport of track and field. A lot of them have aspirations of being All-Americans or conference champions. Others just want to be part of a team. We’ve even got a couple guys who didn’t run high school track that have developed into pretty darn good athletes.
“We’re not blessed here with a lot of great athletes. We do have a couple that fall into our laps once in a while. We work at recruiting, but we try to take young people and develop them during the four years that they’re here. And I think the last three or four years have shown that development.”
Multi-sport standouts Coleman (football), Bouagnon (soccer) and junior Jeremiah Edwards (wrestling) were not recruited to Rose-Hulman to run track, yet they excel in the sport now.
Cole described Coleman, who’s played three seasons as a wide receiver on the Rose football team, as the perfect example of his “equal-opportunity” approach.
“His [high school] coach emails me [in 2008] and says, ‘Look, I don’t know if you know it or not, but you’ve got a great athlete on your campus.’ ” Cole recalled.
So Cole confronted Coleman on his way to football practice in the fall of 2008 and asked if he would be running track in the winter. Coleman told him: “Oh yeah, I love track.”
“And the rest is history,” Cole added.
Coleman said he’s already qualified for the NCAA Division III outdoor championships May 26-28 at Delaware, Ohio, in three events — 110 hurdles, 400 hurdles and open 400 run.
“I’m pretty pleased with the year so far, but there’s always more work to be done,” he noted. “I’m looking forward to improving times as the year goes on.”
Bouagnon would like to compete in the Division III championships in the 400 and 4x400 relay, but for now his focus is on the HCAC meet Friday and Saturday.
Coleman and Bouagnon agree the Rose men’s team is well prepared, thanks to the coaches.
“My freshman year, I really didn’t know what to expect with college track,” Coleman explained. “But both coach Coles, senior [Larry] and junior [Matt], do a phenomenal job and put in hours and hours of work that you really come to appreciate after you’ve been around here a couple years.
“They’re great leaders for the team. Without them, we wouldn’t have the success that we have right now. They really breed leaders and they know how to get the work out of us. They do a great job.”
The Rose-Hulman women’s team is no slouch either, also having won the inaugural HCAC indoor title two months ago. On March 12, sophomore Liz Evans captured the Division III championship in the high jump by clearing 5 feet, 7 3/4 inches at Columbus, Ohio.
“We’ve got several talented young ladies who score a lot of points for us,” Larry Cole mentioned. “That’s how we pulled that [HCAC] indoor championship off. The planets were lined up right that day.”
Evans’ best jump during the outdoor season was 5-8 1/2 April 9 in the Marv Frye Invitational at Delaware, Ohio, where she’ll be going for the Division III outdoor championships.
Evans has stated previously that she’d like to become Rose’s first six-time national champion in any sport by the time she graduates.
“Once they’ve tasted some success — it’s like every other sport — they want more,” Larry Cole pointed out.