As always is the case, Ashland University's outdoor track and field teams have a dual purpose in heading to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships, the 2019 edition of which will be Wednesday-Friday (May 1-3) at Grand Valley State.
Two of the events on the men's side which will have both national and conference implications are the 4x100-meter relay and the 4x400 relay. Neither relay is in the top 16 in NCAA Division II going into the conference meet.
"Both of them will be primed and ready to go," said Ashland associate head coach Ernie Clark. "I don't think we've put our best foot forward yet in either one of those relays, so I expect great things from both of those."
One of the nationals marks Ashland did get on Saturday (April 27) at the Jesse Owens Relays at The Ohio State University was senior Myles Pringle moving into a tie for seventh place in the nation in the high jump at 2.13 meters/6-feet-11¾.
"For me, one of the goals was to see Myles hit a nationals-qualifying mark in the high jump on Saturday," said Clark. "The other piece was to get the 4x4 and the 4x1 there, or at least closer. We're probably closer than ever to having our best four guys healthy together, and I think that they can be pretty special."
On the women's side, senior Tiffany Pryce made a significant move on Saturday to No. 22 in the nation in the 800 run. That time is less than a half-second away from a top-16 spot and advancing to nationals.
"Hopefully this set her up for an even more-confident conference meet as a senior, with a lot of desire to get it done," Clark said. "She stands out to me. Besides our throwers, (and) her doing that, I think javelin is going to be a big deal on both sides."
In addition to sophomore Romi Smith in the women's javelin, senior Samantha Duale and junior Gariana Bercheni can have an impact in the sprints for the Eagle women, while on the men's side, junior Jake Glass (shot put) and sophomore Ian Johnson (800 run and 1,500 run) can do the same.
While Clark agreed that Grand Valley State is the favorite to win the GLIAC title on both the men's and women's sides, the Eagle men are slotted a close second to the Lakers in the most recent U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) conference rankings.
"The women's side, they're ranked No. 1 in the country. They have a lot of depth in a lot of events," Clark said. "Ever since I've been here, though, I've said it's all about us being able to go there and compete up and keep chipping away at it, year after year, with a long-term goal of, in time, shrinking that down so that we feel like we've got a shot.
"What should happen is we should compete really well there. We're going to see some step-ups. I think we have a great chance to be in the mix (on the men's side). I'm very excited about the meet."
Ashland's men are ranked No. 8 in NCAA Division II, and the Eagle women are No. 9. A new ranking comes out on Tuesday (April 30) prior to the start of GLIACs.
"We've learned here that rankings are just rankings," Clark said. "There's no trophy for being ranked in a certain spot, so it's exciting to go work for that trophy, and without question, I believe we'll be very close on the men's side."
In the previous 23 outdoor GLIAC Championships, Ashland's men have won 11 conference championships, most recently in 2017, and been runner-up eight times, while the Eagle women have twice and been second place 14 times.