WINONA LAKE - The Grace College track and field teams are bound for Brookings, S.D., this week to compete in the 2022 NAIA Indoor Championships. The meet takes place Thursday through Saturday at the Sanford-Jackrabbit Athletic Complex on the campus of South Dakota State University.

Coming off a record-breaking indoor season, the Lancers have a total of 15 entries in the NAIA meet, including five relays. The 23 athletes entered in the meet marks an all-time high for the program.

The men’s squad goes in ranked No. 3 in the NAIA by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches’ Association (USTFCCCA) ratings index. The index takes into account all potential qualifiers for the meet from the indoor season.

“We've got a great group of athletes, and we're really excited about the opportunity that’s ahead of us,” said head coach Michael Moffitt. “Nationals are always a great challenge where you see how you stack up against the best in the country, and I know our athletes are eager to step up to the big stage.”

The top event for Lancers heading into the meet is the men’s 4x800-meter relay. While three of the four athletes on the relay were qualified in one or more individual events, they chose to focus on the relay. The foursome of Luke Smith, Isaac Beatty, Tanner Sallee and Kyle Smith are the top-seeded squad entering the meet and have each been on All-American relays in the past.

“Our 4x800 relay is unique in the sense that the athletes came to us as a staff and said they would like to sacrifice their individual events to focus on the best possible effort in the relay,” explained Moffitt. “We think that speaks volumes to how our athletes and team thinks and values one another. We have a chance to make a big impact and use the gifts that God has given us.”

The men are also entered in the distance medley relay and come in seeded sixth. Logan Rufenacht and Dimitri Margaritidis return after helping the relay earn All-American honors a year ago.

Individually, the men’s group is led by senior Isaac Brown, who will look to earn his third straight indoor All-American award in the high jump. Brown placed fourth a year ago and was runner-up in 2020. He is ranked third in the NAIA with a leap of 6-feet-10.75).

Returning All-American Bryan Hernandez-Rios is entered in both the mile and the 3,000, where he is ranked sixth and seventh respectively. Rufenacht and Korry Hamlin will join Hernandez-Rios in the mile, and both runners have a legitimate chance to make the final. Margaritidis adds the 1,000 meters to his relay duties.

The Lancer women are one of the few teams to qualify all three relays for the national championships. Numerous members of the Grace squad will have an opportunity to compete in either the 4x400, 4x800 or distance medley relays.

The women’s squad is anchored by senior All-American Heather Plastow and freshman Kylie Sauder, who earned All-American honors in cross country. Both will be in the mix to run on at least one relay. Plastow is also seeded seventh in the mile, while Sauder is ranked fifth in the 800.

Gracious O’Connor qualified to run in the 60 meter dash and will also fill a relay slot. Mallory Hiatt is slated to compete in the 5,000 meters.

Several other athletes are expected to be part of a relay, including Nordia Campbell, Lyne Camara, Zoe Huley, Anna Hulstedt, Makenzie Adams, Tara Friesen, Elizabeth Moore and Sara Lopez-Ochoa.

“The opportunities to compete in national championship events are few and far between,” noted assistant coach Jake Poyner. “We fully intend to maximize the opportunity by enjoying and celebrating all of this team's preparations and hard work. Regardless of the results, the biggest opportunity in front of us has more to do with competing for something so much bigger than ourselves. I know I speak on behalf of the other coaches when I say that no end result can change the applause and admiration we have for the work ethic, the passion, and the heart these student-athletes share with each other.”

Competition begins on Thursday afternoon. For the Lancers, Hiatt will compete in the first round of the 5,000 meters, while preliminaries will be contested in all of the relays.