Contact: Mark Albanese, Director of Sports Communication
TACOMA, Wash. -The Pacific Lutheran University men's and women's track & field teams are looking to build on the success of last season heading into Saturday's 2018 indoor opener with the Lutes sending a pair of student-athletes to Seattle for the UW Indoor Preview Meet.
"We're excited. We bring a strong group back for both the men and women from teams that improved our finish at the Northwest Conference Championship from the year before," said second-year Head Coach Adam Frye. Frye's initial season with the Lutes last year saw the men place third at the conference meet with the women finishing sixth.
For the men, that strong returning group includes 2017 NWC Track Athlete of the Year Brad Hodkinson who swept the 1,500-meter, 5,000-meter, and 10,000-meter titles at the NWC Championships last season before qualifying for the NCAA Division III Championships in the 10K. The junior continued that dominance into the 2017-2018 academic year, winning the NWC cross country title for the second year in a row along with earning All-American honors in the fall.
The distance guru isn't the only returning Lute looking to make an impact. Joining Hodkinson in the longer races will be Kyle Rapacz, who was an All-West Region selection last season in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. The sprinters return 2016 NWC 100-meter champion Richard Johnson along with speedsters Garrett Hittner and Carson Ketter. Hittner finished runner-up in both the 100-meters and 200-meters last season and along with Johnson and Ketter was a member of the 2016 NWC Champion 4x100-meter relay squad. Another boost for PLU will be the return of Erik Swartout. Swartout was an NCAA qualifier in the javelin in 2016, finishing 13th before sitting out last season due to an injury.
On the women's side, Vakeaemanu Hunkin looks to pick up where she left off last season. The sophomore was the NWC Freshman of the Year last season after winning the NWC shot put title and finishing second in the hammer throw. The Spanaway, Washington native etched her name into the record books in her first season in a Lute uniform, ranking third on the program's all-time list in shot put, ninth in hammer throw, and 10th in discus. Also back is two-sport athlete Machaela Graddy. A two-time NWC Offensive Player of the Year on the soccer pitch, the senior was the runner-up in the javelin at the NWC Championships in addition to qualifying for the NCAA Championships and earning All-West Region honors.
The one-two punch of Hunkin and Graddy is bolstered by the return of Avalyne Peters who finished fourth in the high jump at the NWC Championships along with sprinters Kalen Keim and Kayla Ozawa. Keim was sixth in the 200-meter dash while Keim, Ozawa, and Graddy were on the Lute 4x100-meter relay team that finished fifth. Both the men and women will additionally benefit from a talented group of first years who will provide a much deeper and talented Lute track & field program in 2018.
"Looking at the big picture our goals as a team is to be the best team we can be at the Northwest Conference Championships and then to get as many individuals as we can to the national meet. Within the context of the big picture, I see the indoor season for two things. One, for people who have prepared really well in the offseason and are ready to compete at a high level in January and February. These are great opportunities to get the competitive season started a little bit earlier. Number two is we have some individuals that I think can compete at the national level and have a chance to qualify. Any time you can get to an NCAA Championship is special so if we can send some people to Birmingham, Alabama the second week in March (for the NCAA Indoor Championships) that would be an exciting thing."
While the goal is to peak for the championships, the Lutes' journey begins on Saturday in Seattle with the team sending Hodkinson to compete in the mile and Hunkin to compete in both the shot put and weight throw.
"It's the first meet of the track & field season so its really just an opportunity to get out there and get comfortable competing again. We don't have any big performance goals, its about taking the first step and setting themselves and the team up for success."
Saturday's meet, hosted by the University of Washington at Dempsey Indoor gets underway at 9 a.m. The women's weight throw begins at 9 a.m. with the women's shot put set for 3 p.m. The men's mile is slated for 12:05 p.m.