The Eastern Oregon men’s distance medley relay team won the national title by the slimmest of margins. Then had it stripped due to a disqualification. Then had it reinstated.
It’s a script not even Hollywood could come up with.
The Mountaineers’ DMR team, seeded 10th coming into nationals, claimed the national championship in Saturday’s finals in Pittsburg, Kansas, making them the first relay team in EOU history — indoor or outdoor, men’s or women’s — to win a national championship, according to head coach Ben Welch. It was also a key component of the team finishing tied for sixth nationally with 26 points.
“Each leg we ended up in the lead and finished (the race) in the lead, (but) each leg was a battle. Tactically it was a very exciting race,” Welch said. “It was intense. Those guys came in ranked 10th (but) their goal was to win it. They firmly believed they could do it if they executed well, and they did.”
The team of Thomas Morrell III, Devin Lewis-Allen, Dustin Zimmerly and Michael Slagowski completed the 4,000-meter race in a time of 10:00.45, breaking the program record set barely two days earlier in the preliminaries by Morrell, Lewis-Allen, Zimmerly and Lane Inwards. The team edged out Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) by 0.01 seconds when Slagowski outleaned Olivet’s anchor Wesley Meyer at the finish line.
“Michael just dipped forward at the right time,” Welch said. “That’s almost as close as it gets. He’s a very experienced racer in high end races.”
And then the title was gone.
Northwestern (Iowa) runner Peter Hollinger had gotten tangled up and fell during the opening 1,200-meter leg of the race. After a review, officials ruled that Morrell, EOU’s 1,200 runner, had caused the crash and as a result disqualified the Mountaineers.
Welch protested the ruling, claiming the fall hadn’t been caused by Morrell, who was actually running ahead of Hollinger at the time. Hollinger also said that Morrell hadn’t caused the fall, according to both Welch and Morrell.
After the initial results were posted, Welch said it took about an hour to review the protest.
“All we (could) do was sit around and wait,” Morrell said. “Are they with us? Are they against us?”
After the review, a time that Welch called “more intense than the race,” EOU was reinstated as the national champion.
“After it all came out and we officially won, it was the happiest moment,” Morrell said, understandably calling the experience “a rollercoaster of
For Morrell, who individually took fourth in the men’s 800 with a time of 1:52.51, it was also redemptive. The redshirt sophomore had struggled with both a hamstring cramp and a side stitch, or side cramp, at the end of the cross country season in the Cascade Collegiate Conference and NAIA national meets, respectively.
“It made me train harder and made me want it a lot more, want to be better, want to be with my team to be able to step up and execute when I’m called to the table,” he said. “Having to run the prelims, do the individual and be a big part of the final — I can’t even think of the word to describe it. (The nation title is) something I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”
He wasn’t alone in the standout individual performances. Slagowski, a Penn State transfer, placed second in the men’s mile with a time of 4:10.01, and Zimmerly was sixth in the men’s 1,000 in 2:30.98. Along with the winning relay team members, the trio earned individual all-American status.
“I did not expect that,” Welch said. “I thought even if we did basically what we did, we wouldn't get that high.”
The only members of the men’s team who didn’t reach the top eight were Matthew Kirkendall, who took 10th in the preliminaries of the men’s 60 hurdles in 8.27 seconds, and Lucas Hidalgo, who failed to clear a height in the men’s pole vault.
The EOU women’s team also earned a DMR all-American and saw two individuals garner the coveted status.
The team of Faith Homer, Elizabeth Herbes, Megan Boals and Rachel Roelle finished eighth in a time of 12:28.12. The team had previously set a program record in the preliminary race to crack the top eight and qualify for the final.
“They went in ranked 12th. That was one of the more outstanding performances,” Welch said of the qualifying preliminary race, which the team ran in 12:01.55. “They had to have the race of their lives really.”
The team didn’t match the time in the finals partially due to two of its legs, Homer and Roelle, having short turnarounds from their individual races just before the DMR. Both earned all-American status in those races. Homer took seventh in the women’s 1,000 in a time of 2:59.70, while Roelle was fifth in the women’s 3,000 in 10:03.97, both personal best times according to Welch.
Ebony Wilson, meanwhile, took 18th in the women’s long jump at 18-feet-0-1/4, and 22nd in the triple jump with a distance of 35-feet-10.
As a team, the EOU women finished with seven points to tie for 32nd.