The 2018-19 indoor track and field regular season comes to an end this weekend for Ashland University's nationally-ranked men's and women's teams.
Ranked No. 2 (men) and No. 9 (women) in NCAA Division II, the Eagles will go to the Ohio State Buckeye Tune Up on Friday (Feb. 15) and the Kent State Tune-Up on Saturday (Feb. 16).
And while the goal always is to improve, there's something else on head coach Jud Logan's mind heading into the 2019 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships (Feb. 23-24 at Saginaw Valley State), and, subsequently, the 2019 NCAA Division II Indoor Championships (March 8-9 at Pittsburg State) – health.
"I think we're just going to go and narrow down the amount of events kids do, put them in the best opportunity so that we can put our best foot forward going forth to conference next week," Logan said. "There is not a single team that's ranked in the top 20 in the United States that is 100-percent healthy. Injuries are a part of this sport. It's basically how you manage those things going forward.
"We want to be able to be the healthiest version of ourselves going into conference, and come out the same way."
Logan said the gold star from last week was junior Amber Otermat, who moved into 21st in the country in the women's pole vault (3.79 meters/12-feet-5¼). She will look to move up another rung or two to get into indoor nationals, as the last mark to get in as of now is 3.82 meters/12-feet-6¼.
"That's the confidence that she needed," Logan said. "She didn't just make that bar. She made a bar before that, she made a bar before that, and she made a bar before that. With each time you go over a clearance, comes a new sense of confidence."
One of the throwers who Logan is seeking a next step from is sophomore Gianna DiPippo. DiPippo is No. 19 in the country in the women's shot put (14.57 meters/47-feet-9¾), mere centimeters away from making the national meet, and is No. 20 in D-II in the women's weight throw (17.82 meters/58-feet-5¾), less than a half-meter away from being in the top 16 in that event.
"She's had her best week of training," Logan said. "That's who I'm really looking forward to to step up."
In the men's weight throw, Ashland boasts the top three in the country in sophomore Brent Fairbanks (22.27 meters/73-feet-0¾), junior Alex Hill (21.42 meters/70-feet-3½) and junior Nick Zak (20.74 meters/68-feet-0½). In fact, Fairbanks and Hill are two of the top five indoor weight throwers in D-II men's competition all-time.
"We're blessed with the strength that we have in that area," Logan said. "It's an area of strength for us. It's a pride factor. I'm really proud of the way that Nick Zak has improved this year. Alex Hill, since December, is still waiting for his second-semester breakout meet."
Fairbanks, along with fellow sophomore Trevor Bassitt, earned Week 7 GLIAC Athlete of the Week honors.
Logan is looking for junior Jake Glass and sophomore David Amstutz to make a move in the men's shot put. Amstutz is No. 25 in the country at 17.01 meters/55-feet-9¾, while Glass is No. 27 at 16.93 meters/55-feet-6½. The cut line for nationals going into the weekend is 17.38 meters/57-feet-0¼.
"Dave had a big throw that he barely fouled at Grand Valley which would have put him in the meet," noted Logan. "I have a lot of confidence in those guys."