Missouri Baptist University is the college home to some of the best competitive race walkers in the nation, who will be among track and field athletes competing in the nation’s top event later this month in Alabama.
Photo by: Josh Daugette
Nirvana Zalba (left) trains for the NAIA National Outdoor Championship meet, followed by Molly Josephs (right).
With the 2015 spring semester in their rear view mirror, athletes on the Missouri Baptist University track and field team are looking to qualify for the NAIA National Outdoor Championship meet, if they haven’t already.
The NAIA National Outdoor Championship meet will be held Friday, May 22, 2015, in Gulf Shores, Ala.
Thus far in the season, six individuals have performed exemplary and have qualified to move on to the national level.
On the men’s side, Alejandro Chavez qualified in the 5,000 meter race walk and David Lee is in a qualifying position for the decathlon, but must remain one of the top 16 scorers to hold that position.
“The foundation to any qualifier is a strong group to train with,” said Nick Christie, who was the 5,000 meter race walk National Champion in the spring 2014 track season.
Christie has helped build a philosophy among the MBU race walkers when it comes to the national competition.
“When you qualify at MoBap, you are going after a national record,” Christie said. “We don’t enter nationals going for less than All-American.”
Even with such as impressive goal in mind, Chavez remains humble with the honor of national competition.
“Coming from a small school going to a track meet and trying to make it as big as I can for this school,” Chavez said, “just trying to represent MoBap as best as I can.”
While Chavez has secured his qualifying position by hitting a qualifying time, Lee must remain within the top 16 decathletes in the nation to maintain his qualifying position.
“Currently David’s [points] in the decathlon rank him 12th in the nation at this point in the season. To compete in the NAIA National Outdoor meet, David will need to be in the top 16,” said Mark Sissom, head coach for the men’s track and field team, “so, at this time he is looking good for a chance to compete in the decathlon. … However, there are still four more weeks left in our season.”
Sissom is confident Lee can remain in a qualifying position, but stays realistic about what could happen.
In regards to the current two qualifiers, Chavez and Lee, the head coach speaks only with high remarks.
“They are the most impressive athletes that I have ever coached in my 28 years of coaching track and field,” Sissom said.
On the women’s side of the team, the qualifier list is currently made up of race walkers Natalia Alfonzo, Nirvana Zalba, Molly Josephs and Ioulia Barakou.
These race walkers have all been to the national meet before, so Katie Cline, head coach for women’s track and field, isn’t stressing about their possible performances.
“They’re all extremely hard workers. I’m very confident in their abilities,” said Cline.
Josephs knows the heat and humidity of the Gulf Shores, Ala., will make the race difficult, but she is excited for the challenge.
“The race at nationals is going to be in less-than-ideal weather, so it is going to be a good fight,” said Josephs.
Cline agrees with Josephs that it will be a fight for the championship.
“I think they all want it. So, I think it’s going to come down to that day, to which [athlete] fights the hardest,” Cline concurred.
Even in the face of a tough race, Zalba’s confidence in her team is unwavering.
“I believe that this has been a good year for the team and we expect to bring more national champions home,” Zalba said.
Cline shares Zalba’s expectations that one of the racers will bring back the championship. “I think one of them will end up national champion in the 5K race walk.”
While the performance of the national qualifiers is outstanding, many other athletes are having a successful outdoor track season with new personal records and top placing finishes.
Cline discussed how every athlete is important no matter what their ability level.
“[Athletes] are no less valuable to me if they don’t make it to nationals,” Cline said. “They are all hard workers, but realistically not everyone can make it to nationals.”
Some of those excelling athletes include Max Wingate, Aliyah Reams, Kambre Major, Jacob Pinkley, Melanie Laurence, Miles Chase, Ross Blakely, Kaitlyn Winter and Martinez Crespo.
“I consider it a great blessing that I’ve been able to compete at a college level,” said Wingate, the university’s current javelin record holder.
Chase added, “I see improvement, and try to get better at practice every day.”
Of course, running and training can mean different things to different people.
“Running is an act of worship to God,” said distance runner Melanie Laurence. “I can praise him for blessing me with the ability to run.”