Eagles have more modest team goals for 2014 NCCAA Indoor Championships

OC sophomore Austin Wallace figures to be a threat to earn All-America honors in the NCCAA heptathlon.
OC sophomore Austin Wallace figures to be a threat to earn All-America honors in the NCCAA heptathlon.

OKLAHOMA CITY (Feb. 20, 2014) – At the 2013 National Christian College Athletic Association Indoor Championships, Oklahoma Christian had one of those magical track and field meets. With a veteran-laden squad, OC posted a national top-four team finish for only the fifth time in the program’s history.

This year’s Eagles aren’t bereft of talent by any means and OC will have contenders in several events during this year’s NCCAA event, which is set for Friday and Saturday at Olivet Nazarene University’s Perry Student Life and Recreation Center in Bourbonnais, Ill. But without the depth of last year’s squad, a top-10 team finish would seem unlikely.

“I just don’t know,” OC head coach Randy Heath said. “Last year, we had a lot of solid performances and those were all experienced people who did multiple events. I don’t know how to judge this (meet). I think we’ll score points in the men’s … that will be noteworthy that way.”

Three Eagles in particular figure to compete for All-America honors, which go to the top three finishers in each event – Austin Wallace in the heptathlon, Larry Brown in the weight throw and Bryant Keirns in the 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters.

Wallace finished second at nationals last year as a freshman and enters this year’s meet ranked fifth in the event, with a top score of 4,546. He is the Eagles’ only healthy returning competitor who earned indoor All-America status last season. He could also be called on to run a leg on the Eagles’ 4x400-meter relay team.

“Most people have only done one heptathlon to get a (qualifying) score, so I think he will push up there and will have a good meet,” Heath said. “He’s more experienced. He’s better in quite a few events than he was a year ago. He really peaked indoor last year at this meet, so we’re hopeful. I think he’s definitely got a chance to be in the top five.”

Brown finished second in the hammer throw in last year’s NCCAA Outdoor Championships and is ranked fourth in the indoor weight throw this year at 52 feet, 4½ inches (15.96 meters).

“He threw that mark early in the indoor season,”  Heath said. “He hasn’t duplicated it since but he’s been in the 50-foot range. He’s gotten better in the weight throw and he’s had a very good indoor season. I know he wants to improve his mark.”

Keirns will attempt to double in the meet’s two longest individual races. The 5,000 is scheduled for Friday night, while the 3,000 is on Saturday afternoon. The sophomore finished fifth individually at last fall’s NCCAA Cross Country Championship and is ranked 10th in the 5,000 (15:14.94) and 16th in the 3,000 (8:48.68).

“He’s been training really well and looking strong,” assistant coach Wade Miller said of Keirns. “I think he’s got a good shot to do some damage. … He’s faster than he is on paper.”

Among OC’s other middle-distance and distance runners, freshman Kyle Broaddrick might also try the 5,000-3,000 double, depending on how he feels physically after the first race. He’s ranked 14th in the 5,000 with a top time of 15:48.21 and could be a threat for a top-10 finish.

Sophomore Timothy Zuercher is ranked 24th in the 5,000 (16:06.36), junior Brennym Kaelin is ranked 26th in the 3,000 (9:02.58) and freshman Evan Durrill qualified in the mile.

Besides Brown, OC’s other field representative will be freshman Keegan Palmer, who is ranked 17th in the triple jump at 41 feet, 3¾ inches (12.59 meters).

The Eagles will have five sprinters running in the meet. Austin Kruzich and Jamal George qualified in both the 60 meters and 200 meters, while Joshua Jones, Trenton Parker and Winston Ogletree all will run on relay squads.

OC’s 4x200 relay team of Kruzich, Jones, Ogletree and George has a top time of 1:33.37, ranked seventh in the NCCAA. The 4x400 group of Parker, Wallace, Ogletree and Jones is ranked 12th at 3:30.59. If Wallace can’t go, George or Kruzich would step in.

“They’ve got a chance to score, but everybody’s got to make their handoffs and everybody’s got to run well for that to happen,” Heath said.