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JUCO track and field: IHCC celebrates unprecedented success

Mar. 15—OTTUMWA — It seems like the journey has been a long one for Brett Ewing.

In honesty, the Indian Hills men's track and field team program has made a rapid ascent. In less than a decade, the Warriors have ascended to the top of the mountain bringing home the program's first national team championship beating some of the country's top powerhouses on the final day of the 2024 NJCAA National Indoor meet.

In just the program's ninth year for indoor competition, Indian Hills claimed 15 All-American individual honors and a pair of relay All-American finishes surging past several of the country's top programs including regional rivals Iowa Central and Iowa Western before putting away the title with a pair of top-six finishes from Cole Reinders and Keveroy Venson in the men's 1,000-meter run allowing the Warriors to beat New Mexico Junior College by 7.5 points achieving a dream Ewing has had for the program.

"It's one of those special moments in my life for sure," Ewing said. "It feels like you're building and building and you'll be building forever. You don't know when you're going to reach your destination, so it's kind of a surreal moment to have done it and getting there to the top of this mountain.

"I'm proud of this group. I'm proud of all the program that have come through the program over the past eight to nine years. If it wasn't for their success, we never would have gotten to this point. We've just continued to build and build year by year just to experience this special moment."

Indian Hills nearly claimed national titles in six different events during the national indoor championships. Reigning outdoor national champion Tyrice Taylor claimed a second-place finish for the Warriors in the 800-meter run, finishing the race in 1:50.52 finishing just 0.39 seconds behind Iowa Western's Mohammed Kowa while sophomore sprinter Chris Johnson brought home the silver medal for IHCC in the 400-meter dash in 47.07 seconds, just 0.26 seconds behind New Mexico Junior College's Donald Chiyangwa.

In the 60-meter dash, Traunard Folson finished second in 6.7 seconds. Terrick Johnson added a national runner-up finish in the 600 meters, finishing the race in 1:17.34, while Warrior freshman thrower Tate Joens reached over 61 feet on his new program record throw of 18.61 total meters in the men's weight throw.

Suddenly, after the flurry of top-two finishes, Indian Hills had vaulted from seventh place after the first day of the national indoor meet to the lead late in on the second and final day of competition at the Alachua County Sports and Events Center in Gainesville, Florida.

"I was very confident going into that final day. We only had two championship events on the first day, but that day was important because it got everyone into finals heading into the second day that we needed," Ewing said. "I knew we had a lot of irons in the fire. I think our guys were also very confident. I knew it was going to come down to us and New Mexico Junior College and I knew is would just be a matter of going out there and making it happen."

Indian Hills also posted the NJCAA National Indoor Meet's second-fastest all-time finish in the men's 4,000-meter distance medley relay as Cole Reinders, Jah'Vauni Wheeler, Terrick Johnson and Venson produced a time of 9:45.52. Iowa Central prevented the Warriors from setting the meet record, edging IHCC by 0.63 seconds.

Reinders, Chris Johnson, Mohammed Al-Yafaee and Felix Petit Belleville added All-American honors in the 4x800 relay for the Warriors in 7:38.26. Wheeler joined Johnson in securing All-American honors for Indian Hills in the 400-meter dash as the teammates secured top-three finishes in the quarter-mile race for the Warriors, giving IHCC the lead for good with five events left in the national meet.

"When Tate got second in the weight throw to open the final day, then having Traunard turn right around and finish second in the 60 meters, we suddenly started gaining some pretty big points," Ewing said. "Triston (Miller) also finished third in the men's heptathlon, so we were getting points left and right. That men's 400 was really the turning point for us. We were not supposed to finish that high. Chris was supposed to finish second, but Jah'Vauni was ranked eighth going into that final and got third. That was big for us.

"We turned around, got the second-place run from Tyrice in the 800 and it was basically game over from that point on."

It was game over and the start of a new era for the Indian Hills track and field program. Indian Hills had built a 13.5-point lead heading into the final event of the meet, leaving only the celebration left for the Warriors to enjoy following the conclusion of the closing 4x400 relay race.

"The guys were very cool, calm, collected and confident as the meet was going along," Ewing said. "There wasn't a sense of arrogance, but it was the confidence that we were prepared for this and we're going to go out to make it happen. It's our job as coaches to manage the emotions of our athletes. If the coaches are staying cool-headed, they'll stay cool-headed too.

"I'm just really proud we could ascend to this point. You don't know when you'll get the chance to win a national championship. They don't happen all the time. I had to wait eight years for this one. Just to be in the mix, I didn't want to miss out on this opportunity. I wanted us to capitalize on it."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.