Ashland University's men's indoor track and field team is in a position it's never been in before – starting a season as defending NCAA Division II national champions.
The one thing that isn't different is both the Eagle men and women starting a new campaign with multiple returning All-Americans – senior throwers Alex Hill and Nick Zak, junior thrower Brent Fairbanks, and sprinters Trevor Bassitt (junior), Channing Phillips (junior), Paul Murray (senior), Keshun Jones (sophomore) and Brayden Chaney (sophomore) on the men's side, and senior high jumper Ellie Jindra on the women's side.
Ashland's men and women will begin the 2019-20 indoor season in three places – at the Youngstown State Icebreaker on Friday (Dec. 6), Findlay's Oiler Opener on Saturday (Dec. 7) and the Saginaw Valley State Holiday Open on both Friday and Saturday.
"I don't know if there is anything different about the first meet," Ashland head coach Jud Logan said. "There's a group of people that have been training really hard, and they're ready to do something that is probably better than they've ever done this early in the year."
The Eagle men are ranked No. 4 in NCAA Division II, coming off the first of two team national titles in 2019.
"We still have quite a few people with a lot of NCAA experience. You don't replace Tom Brady when he retires, you start over," Logan said, referencing the graduated Myles Pringle. "Doesn't mean that you don't have 21 other players on that team that are capable of rising the next guy up to that level.
"We've got great senior leadership in the throws."
Those throwers will be at Findlay on Saturday, and along with Hill, Zak and Fairbanks, Ashland will showcase senior Jake Glass and junior David Amstutz on the men's side, junior Gianna DiPippo on the women's side, and the women's redshirt sophomore quartet of Taylor Kroll, Carrol Pauley, Makayla Pop and Elizabeth Weimer.
"Gianna, I think, is going to be a national qualifier in both the shot and weight throw," Logan said. "And then, it's time for the Fab Four to step up. With those four, they've got to be able to rise up and get to Gianna's level."
Ashland's runners will be at Youngstown State. In addition to the aforementioned 2019 All-Americans, the Eagle men added freshman transfer Travis Marx and freshman Tyler Hannah into the mix, giving them more top sprinter options. Another "new" distance runner is senior Steven Kapes, who returns to the program after previously transferring to Walsh.
One of the events which could come together this winter, for both teams, is a distance medley relay.
"That's always been the strength of what coach (Jacob) Sussman has been trying to do with his 800 guys, and he had some guys make some pretty big breakthroughs last year in the 800," Logan said. "Now, it's time to figure out which one can run the 12, which one can run the mile, and Ernie (Clark) is always going to have a 46-second quarter-miler for those guys."
At Saginaw, the multis group which will compete is headed up by sophomore Ethan Tabor and junior Travis Moore for the men, and senior Paula Wollenslegel for the women. Tabor also will be a threat nationally as a long jumper, as well.