When you are the Ashland University men's and women's outdoor track and field teams, and you are coming off an NCAA Division II national championship and an 11th-place nationals finish indoors, respectively, what do you do for an encore?
The answer to that begins to come on Friday and Saturday (March 22-23) at the Winthrop Adidas Invitational in Rock Hill, S.C.
"Across the board, practices are at as high of a level as I've ever remembered, at this point," said Ashland associate head coach Ernie Clark, "which doesn't surprise me, but it's nice to see. We're at an extremely high level."
The Winthrop meet is going to be full-squad, with the notable exceptions of senior Myles Pringle (rest) and sophomore Trevor Bassitt (injury). That does, however, give some other Eagle men on the track side the opportunity to step into starring roles.
"We have such a mix of veterans. We have some older guys with a lot of experience," Clark said. "The mix of the younger guys in the throws and all the sprint areas, it's incredible. So it will be nice to get them on a big track to see what they can do.
"It's going to be a nice snapshot of what our future can be."
On the men's side, Clark mentioned junior Alex Hill as someone who can get out to a fast start outdoors.
"I know he made the national meet (indoors)," Clark said. "He gets to mix in the discus, as well, so now he's a two-event guy instead of a one-event guy. So, for me, that's somebody who stands out right away."
Clark also noted senior thrower Stephen Pop, along with a deep sprint group to make up a 4x100-meter relay that can contend nationally.
"I think we should go from being the nation's best 200 crew, to hopefully turning that into a relay that's one of the nation's best," he said.
The AU women continue their ascent thanks to that indoor nationals finish, in which only four athletes competed.
"It's about getting them there to get them experience," Clark said. "Just like Ellie (junior jumper Ellie Jindra) did. She goes, and she gets it done. We need more of that. Just get there, so we can keep building that to become a podium-type team."
Junior sprinter Gariana Bercheni made a big leap outdoors last spring as a sophomore, and another such move could get her to nationals this spring.
"The hope is that she uses that excitement, that experience, that kind of progress of last year…she'll say, 'I'm going to do that again,' but do it even better," Clark said. "She lifetime PRed in every event indoors, so you'd like to see that turn into a lifetime PR in every event outdoors, and then she makes it in one or two events."