Ismaelle Occeus, left, and DeMichcia Higgins practice hurdles during a track practice on Wednesday, April 30, 2016.
Ismaelle Occeus, left, and DeMichcia Higgins practice hurdles during a track practice on Wednesday, April 30, 2016.

On Track: Brenau Expands Championship Track & Field Program with Indoor Game

April 14, 2016

Brenau University will add indoor track to complement its 4-year-old championship track and field program starting in the 2016-17 season.

“Based on how we’re competing right now, I could kick myself that we didn’t already have indoor track,” said Brenau Athletics Director Mike Lochstampfor, who in 2013 started the Golden Tigers track and field program. Since then, the Golden Tigers have won three straight Southern States Athletic Conference championships. The team will try for a “four-peat” when it leaves April 21 for the 2016 SSAC meet in Mobile, Alabama.

Lochstampfor said he wanted to give the outdoor track program time to mature “and make sure all the kinks are worked out” before adding the indoor component.

Then, Richard Ludwig, the first Brenau head track coach, retired last spring after three straight SSAC Coach of the Year titles, and was replaced by Byron Kramer.

“I wanted to give him a year to get his feet wet and understand how things go,” Lochstampfor said. “I didn’t want to throw indoor track on him right away as part of his first year. But we’re competing as well as we did last year, so it’s a natural progression for that to happen now.”

The NAIA considers indoor track separate from outdoor track, so the team will become Brenau’s 14th athletics unit. The university recently announced addition of lacrosse, what will be the 15th unit, slated to put players into training during the fall semester of 2017 with competition beginning in 2018. Currently the Tigers participate in cross country (which has some cross-over participation with track and field), soccer, volleyball, basketball, swimming, softball, golf and tennis. In addition to competitive cheerleading, Brenau has spirit cheer and dance teams. Also, there are junior varsity squads for basketball and softball.

Currently 145 schools participate in NAIA indoor track (compared to 175 in outdoor track), with competition running from November to March.

“The athletes are already here and the infrastructure is already in place, so we’re just adding onto what we already have,” Lochstampfor said. “Basically, it’s an extension of their season. They would still be training in November, but with a goal in mind of a track meet next week and not three months down the road.”

The Golden Tigers are led this year by senior West Palm Beach, Florida, native Dana Cole, the SSAC Field Athlete of the Year; 2015 NAIA national championship qualifiers Deishane’ Honeycutt, a senior from Stone Mountain, Georgia, and junior DeMichia Higgins from Duluth, Georgia; junior Cheyenne Wells from Sandy Springs, Georgia; and senior Olamide Sokunbi from Marietta, Georgia.

The team opened the 2016 season with a second-place finish at the Cougar Invitational in Columbus, Georgia. Brenau first won the Birmingham Southern Invitational. Then, the Tigers placed 10th out of 34 NCAA Division I, II, III and NAIA school teams at the Emory University Classic. In that meet, Sokunbi picked up the first of two SSAC Women’s Outdoor Track Athlete of the Week honors this season after she emerged from a 70-runner field in the meet to win the 100 meter dash in record time. In the 2016 Shorter Relays, the Tigers had 12 top 10 finishes in the 18 women’s events. Sokunbi took her second SSAC Athlete of the Week honor at the Terrier Relays, hosted by Wofford University in Spartanburg, South Carolina, along with strong team showings in point-scoring events. At the Susan Rouse Invitational hosted by Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina, senior Aubrey Fearnow from Arnoldsville, Georgia, gained her own SSAC Athlete of the Week accolade as she scored high in four field events.

Addition of the fall sport will not require the university to recruit a full team of new specialists since the seasons do not overlap and athletes can participate in both the indoor and outdoor sports. However, Lochstampfor said indoor track also will help with recruiting because some athletes are better competing indoors than outdoors. Not only is the track smaller and sometimes banked, but some events are different. Lochstampfor expects the track and field team size, now numbering 27, to increase by five to 10 athletes.

“Our coach would like 30 to 40 on the team, so there’s definitely room for growth,” he said.

“One thing that sets our team aside apart from other conference teams is we have double or triple the number of female athletes. We can have multiple athletes in events, which enables us to score more points.”

Because the SSAC does not sponsor an indoor track championship, Lochstampfor said Brenau would have to find meets sponsored by Division I, II or III schools.

The track team trains on outdoor facilities at both the Riverside Military Academy and Gainesville High School. In the future, the outdoor program plans to move into the new $4.4 million athletics facility at the site of the historic New Holland textile mill village, about two miles from campus.

Brenau currently has 180 athletes competing in varsity sports. With the addition of indoor track and the other recently announced intercollegiate sports addition, lacrosse, the total could go up to about 220, representing about 25 percent of the Brenau University Women’s College enrollment.

“My goal has been to add something every year or every other year,” Lochstampfor said. “We’ve been able to do that despite the fact it’s sometimes a little of a challenge to determine where they will be competing and training.

“Fortunately, we’re blessed to be in an area that’s receptive to our growth. Gainesville and Hall County opened their arms to our teams and allow us to form these relationships to use their facilities. That has been a great part of our success.”

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