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Winning the national title, as told by Bulldog coaches/athletes

By Jake Knabel on Jun. 1, 2015 in Track & Field

On May 23 Concordia University men’s track and field celebrated the first team national title in school history. An underdog in the national title race, the Bulldogs led the meet from start to finish and hung onto the No. 1 spot as part of a tightly-bunched topped four. For members of the program, the accomplishment was a dream come true. Several of the 19 coaches/athletes who made the trip to Alabama reflected upon that historic day that saw Concordia raise the banner.

Trey Barnes, Freshman (discus)
Being a national champion is an honor! I never in a million years thought I would have been a part of something this special. It means more being as close to the team as I have gotten. It's fun to compete and was even more fun being able to compete with a large group of Concordia throwers. 

Jason Berry, Assistant Coach (pole vault)
Without doubt it is one of the most significant team experiences of my life. The other was as a senior in high school when I was part of the 1989 Illinois state track & field champion team. But this, as a coach, having my pole vault boys do what they did, what the throwers did, what the multi's did, what the runners did... is simply amazing.

Shock... Joy... Accomplishment... Pride...  I've known Coach Einsphar the longest of any of the assistant coaches. My last years here as an athlete were his first as a coach. I know what he has gone through to build this program. I was excited for him in this moment. Age has granted me a good perspective on the history of this program, we would not be here today if not for his work building this program over the past 20 plus years. Friendships that have formed between the coaching staff is unique, this is something I will cherish for the rest of my life!

I was exceedingly proud of my pole vault boys. They were projected to get only one point in the pole vault. In difficult wind conditions, we worked together to make the adjustments necessary and they both (Brandon Ramos and Lucas Wiechman) either tied or set new personal bests and walked away with 10 points. Without them and the efforts of every guy on the team, this wouldn't have been possible. I'm very proud of these boys!

Matthew Chapa, Senior (4x400 meter relay)
It is very humbling to know that you were a part of something as big as nationals. It is a huge honor being a part of something this big with such skilled athletes. When I heard that we were national champions, it took a little bit to set in. After a while I was so excited that I could hardly think straight. I couldn’t stop smiling knowing that we not only won, but we made history for Concordia. We were in a way, sending a message to everyone that anything is possible through God.

Brandon Cook, Sophomore (decathlon)
Even though track focuses on individual achievement, one person could not do it alone. It took the combined effort of everyone on the team doing their best. If one person would have slacked off we would have lost. With just one person we wouldn't be where we are today.

Kregg Einspahr, Head Coach
I certainly did not project that we would have the lead going into the 4x4. Going into the meet I didn’t think that we had much chance of winning the national title. We had a lot of things go our way. I have to give credit to our kids. They really had a good meet. It’s a dream come true for myself, our coaches and our athletes.

All of the sudden I heard someone gasp in the crowd. The Indiana Tech runner pulled up a bit and CJ put the pedal to the floor. At that point I knew that we were going to win. It’s just an amazing feeling. There were hugs all around. All of us coaches got dumped in the steeplechase pit. We’ve been together as a staff for quite a while. It’s fun to do this with all of them.

I think anybody who’s been coaching for a long time, it’s an unspoken dream that you’d like to win a national championship. It’s always something in the back of your mind you’d like to accomplish. You never know if you are going to have the guns to do it.

Trey Farmer, Senior (hammer throw, shot put)
As a senior it means a lot to be able to go out on top with a championship that was not expected. This opportunity doesn't come around often. It was very unreal. I couldn't believe that it had happened and once I saw CJ pass the Indiana Tech guy, I was just beyond shocked. We worked our tails off and it paid off. I wouldn't have wanted to accomplish it with a different group of people. You train with these guys year round and for some of us, it is the last meet we will ever have. There is nothing like going out on top and it is something that I will be able to talk about for many years.

CJ Muller, Sophomore (400 meters, 4x400 meter relay)
It's an honor and an incredible experience to be part of Concordia's first national championship team!  I am proud to be a part of long lasting tradition. This wouldn't have been possible without the countless number of alums who helped put Concordia on the map and build it up to the programs we have here today.

Receiving the baton for the last lap in the relay I was pretty bummed. I knew even if I ran another ridiculous time, Indiana Tech was out of my striking distance. Once on the back stretch I could see something was wrong, Jon Hester's (Indiana Tech runner) head was bobbing side to side and it wasn't until the other schools passed I saw he had pulled something. It was really an unbelievable moment. I couldn't believe my eyes. That moment I passed him my only goal was to finish the race without screwing up. When I crossed the finish line Stacy (Dahlkoetter, athletic trainer) greeted me with water and I had to ask her if we really had won. When she confirmed with a yes, I was in shock. All of us on the relay were. 

Some things I enjoyed the most were seeing the coaches bubble over with happiness. The amount of time they put into track, the early mornings, late nights and time away from their families paid off. The embraces we shared as a team was of pure joy. Another thing I would like to share is the amount of support we received. Starting the night before, from fellow teammates and friends congratulating us on qualifying to finals. To my parents having 20 people over to watch us on the live webcast. After we won and I was finally able to get on my phone, it had exploded with missed calls and texts from past and present teammates. Twitter was going crazy. I especially loved the support from the other GPAC schools like Doane and Briar Cliff. At the moment I finally realized how big and strong Concordia's family really was. We've said it all year and I'm going to say it once more, DawgStrong!

Tai Pleasant, Senior (400 meter hurdles, 4x400 meter relay)
Winning a national title was amazing. I've been on cloud nine since last Saturday (May 23). I’m glad I got to leave Concordia on the highest note you can leave any school – with a national championship victory. The fact that I contributed to the victory made it even better.

Mark Samuels, Assistant Coach
Being a national championship team is the ultimate goal. It’s something you dream about but never really expect to actually see come true. Fourteen years ago I first stepped on this campus as an athlete not really knowing what Concordia was all about. Now all these years later I know how much this means, not only to our program or coaching staff, but to every Bulldog that has been fortunate enough to compete here. There is a piece of this championship that is theirs. Concordia is a special place with many special people and it's so special to finally bring home a championship to all those that have invested so much. I can't tell you how surreal it is to think back through the years to where the dream was born and watch it come to fruition in the waning moments of the season. A life time of memories flashing before your eyes as you begin to realize what is taking place. Truly remarkable.

To watch that final lap play out was a full range of emotions. Shock and utter disbelief turned to joy, excitement and jubilation. To be able to share those emotions with our coaching staff brought out shear raw emotion. I would call our coaching staff my best friends and reaching the pinnacle of our sport with them was truly memorable. Memories I will never ever forget. I still look at the pictures and videos and can't believe we actually did it. It certainly hasn't sunk in yet. I think the few pictures I attached show what it means more than I can explain in words. They were taken by one of our athletes seconds after the final event was done.

I feel that it is truly an honor to be able to coach the athletes that we do and do it at such a special place like Concordia. Those athletes have made so many sacrifices and put in so much hard work to get to this point. Every Bulldog that has been on our campus through the years laid the foundation for what took place this past weekend. Without all of them we would have never had this opportunity.

I'm still amazed at how well our team competed. I think back to the meet and they put it all out there, but they did it with such confidence and composure. I think it really showed that this group had been there before and believed they could do really well. That experience really showed. I've never seen a team of ours compete at the national meet with such drive and determination. Every event seemed to build off the next. I'm sure it's been done before but certainly not very often a team leads from the very first event all the way to the last. Really, really special to see how well they competed.

Josh Slechta, Junior (hammer throw)
It feels incredible to be a part of a national title winning group. I am honored to call every guy on this team my brother. 

Jaap van Gaalen, Sophomore (4x400 meter relay)
Being part of Concordia's first national championship is something I will never forget and the moment of winning it will last a life time.

Lucas Wiechman, Sophomore (decathlon, pole vault)
Being part of the national champion means I'm part of a team that collectively went the extra mile. We came together as a team and became the perfect underdog story. I was overwhelmed. It was such an amazing experience. All of our hard work had paid off in the greatest way possible.