Track team stays on track

The Bethel College track and field team is beginning a new and exciting chapter in
the program’s history with the beginning of the 2017 season. Since 1998, coach
Tony Natali, who has helped create Bethel into a nationally recognized track and
field program, has guided the team to eight NCCAA national championship titles (3
men’s and 5 women’s). The program has also had an impressive 111 student athletes
be named All-American.

Coach Natali is no novice to the program being so successful, but he also is a
creature of habit, ensuring that if it ain’t broke, then you probably shouldn’t fix it.

“You always have to tweak things from one year to the next,” said Natali, “but when
it comes to the nature and pillars of the program, I feel like the core values and
culture is something to be proud of. I really don’t like changing the culture of
things.”

Natali and the Bethel College track and field team have developed quite the culture
of their own. Pilot Junior long-jumper/triple-jumper Caleb Strom, relayed how this
culture of BC track and field comes with many screams, hollers and pick-me-ups.

“The community that we have built with each other is unmatched,” said a confident
Strom, “We are always and will always be the loudest team [at meets]. The morale
is incredible.”

BC track and field has developed into a successful program, but what stands out
most is their proud and enthusiastic voices, cheering on and encouraging every
teammate.

“When I started with this program 19 years ago, I really wanted to have something
that we would hang our hat on, and that’s definitely the thing that best exemplifies
the Bethel College track team,” said Natali. “To develop that chemistry and have it be
so strong across the entire team and across different events has become our
culture.”

A student of the sport, Natali has come to recognize the importance of working
smarter, while also working hard.

“The biggest challenge is always going to be the mental approach that kids take to
track,” said Natali. “Track can be really interesting, mentally. How do you handle
success? Do you continue to work hard regardless? It’s a long season and you have
to enjoy the process of a season.”

The ironic side of the Bethel track team is that they never have “home court
advantage.” The team does not have a track of their own and has still managed
success without—what some would see as one of the most crucial aspects of a track
team—a track.

“Our kids understand what our program is about,” said Natali, laughing at the irony
of it all. “They don’t see that as an excuse. Our coaching staff does a phenominal job
of just being creative to make things work as well.”

The team has had to become quite creative as they come up with ways to work out
and work towards success. The Pilots use the neighboring John Young Middle
School track facility for practices as well as the weight and cardio rooms of Bethel’s
Goodman Gymnasium. The team even holds many practices in the basement of the
campus’ newest dormitory, Bridges Hall.
Natali dismissed any ideas that the program is desperate for a new facility.
Although, he didn’t deny that the program might be able to reach new heights with
such a renovation to campus.

“There have been talks and ideas on putting in an indoor facility on campus,” said
Natali. “My prayer would be that we could make this facility actually happen
sometime soon, so it could take our program to the next level.”

Despite lacking a track to call their own, this year’s team is already off to an
incredible start. The team recorded a first-place finish at the Aquinas invite last
weekend and already has six athletes who have qualified for NAIA nationals.
For the women, Taylor Pennington has nationally qualified for the long-jump, which
is a first for this 4-year member of the Lady Pilots track team. Danielle
Wojciechowski is a transfer athlete from Olivet Nazarene University and is now
ranked second in the country for NAIA in the pole vault.
On the guys’ side, junior Erik Escobedo, a weight thrower for the Pilots, is second in
the nation and broke Bethel’s school record in weight-throw at the Aquinas
Invitational. Elias Micozzi, a senior weight thrower for the Pilots, and Kyle
Ostrander, who’s a senior shot-put thrower, have both qualified for nationals along
with Phil Fox, who has qualified in the multi-event as well.

“There are always kids that reach national recognition that have never received that
honor before, which is really cool to see them and their hard work pay off,” said
Natali. “It’s always fun to see those who are able to step up and really progress
throughout the course of a season.”

For Natali, he believes the mindset and goals for Bethel should be centered around
continual growth, while keeping the expectations high.

“We don’t like to talk about winning and losing as much as we talk about the
process,” said Natali. “We like to keep our goals based more on improvement than
anything else. If we continually focus on improvement, then the goals of winning
meets or conference victories or sending kids to nationals will all start to fall into
place.”

In between last season and the current season, J.W. Maierle was hired as a full-time
assistant coach for the Pilots, which is a first for head coach Natali. Maierle helps
with the sprinters and jumpers as well as assisting with some of the recruiting
processes for the team as a whole.

The Pilots have also secured recruitments in 12 incoming freshmen for next year’s
campaign. Natali believes that the team will look to secure atleast another 6 or 7
freshmen before the end of the year to be a part of the ’17-’18 squad.
As for the future of this “track-less” powerhouse, Coach Natali believes that the
program will continue to see success as the years continue.

“The future is something that we can continually be proud of and work at,” said a
confident Natali. “The biggest thing is making sure we continue to be Christcentered
and have the work ethic and attitude that we’ve worked hard at over the
past 19 years and try not to change that.”

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