GULF SHORES, Ala. – Aaron Ward led the way for the Waldorf University men's track and field team in the marathon during the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Outdoor National Championships on Saturday.
Ward claimed 11th place as the senior from State Center clocked a time of 2 hours, 50 minutes, 42.20 seconds in the 26.2-mile race.
"Aaron looked strong throughout the entire race and maintained top 15 the whole way," Waldorf interim head coach Kaylen White said. "He even managed to move up a few positions in the last few miles. He had the endurance and strength that put him above all those other guys."
Despite a 6 a.m. start time, temperatures climbed to more than 80 degrees as runners were forced to endure the heat. Despite less-than-ideal course conditions, Ward, Nathan Meiners and Andrew Murley put together hard-fought performances for the Warriors.
"It was a terribly hot and muggy day from the very beginning," White said. "That was hard to prepare for, but these guys still did an incredible job pushing through."
Meiners closed out the race in 38th (3:24:51.80) as the senior from Omaha, Neb. battled the elements.
"Nathan started out strong and just fell victim to the heat," White said. "He looked good through the first half, but had some issues with his legs cramping."
Ward and Meiners established school records, becoming Waldorf's first-ever athletes to compete in the marathon.
Unfortunately, Murley was unable to complete the race due to the unfavorable conditions that prevented 31 total runners from crossing the finish line. Though Murley exited early, the freshman from Sac City turned in a solid first collegiate season and has a bright future ahead of him.
"Andrew was in a similar situation and the heat just sapped his energy," White said. "Nathan and Andrew both did great pushing through tough spots in the race."
Ward, who ended the race just three spots shy of capturing all-American status, was the top performer from the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA) in the event and earned all-conference honors with the finish. Meiners, who posted the NSAA's third-fastest time, also garnered all-conference recognition.
Concluding his career at nationals, Ward had a strong final season with the Warriors starting with cross country in the fall when he helped Waldorf to a runner-up finish in the NSAA Championships. He went on to claim all-conference honors in the 10,000-meter run and 3,000 steeplechase during the NSAA Outdoor Championships earlier this month at Jamestown, N.D.
Meiners also delivered high-level performances for the Warriors throughout the year. He became Waldorf's first-ever two-time national qualifier in cross country during the fall, raced to all-conference recognition in the 5,000 during both the indoor and outdoor campaigns, then secured all-conference honors in the 10,000 during the NSAA Outdoor Championships. Meiners, who still has one year of outdoor track eligibility remaining, returns for Waldorf next spring.
Ward, Meiners and Murley etched their names in the school record book as they became Waldorf's first-ever outdoor national qualifiers during the NAIA Half Marathon Qualifier held in December at Fremont, Neb. Ward charged to seventh (1:13.04) in the 13.1-mile event, which started in the countryside and transitioned to a road race. Meiners locked up eighth (1:13.10) and Murley pulled in ninth (1:13.27) as all three runners hit the NAIA's national-qualifying A standard.
The marathon at outdoor nationals featured 77 entries and the University of Saint Mary's Christian Graham brought home the national title with a time of 2:37:31.20, topping William Woods University's Kaleb Wilson by 3 minutes, 0.30 seconds.
The University of British Columbia, which is ranked No. 2 in the latest United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) poll, won its first-ever national championship as the Thunderbirds racked up 71 points to hold off top-ranked Indiana Institute of Technology (64) by seven points. Third-ranked Wiley College (57) took third, No. 7 Lindsey Wilson College (47) grabbed fourth, No. 6 Concordia University (46) placed fifth while No. 4 Wayland Baptist University (45), No. 9 Southern Oregon University (29), No. 12 MidAmerica Nazarene University (29), No. 14 St. Ambrose University (28) and No. 5 Doane University (26) completed the top 10 of the team standings.