Lewis-Clark State Warrior track and field is on an on all-time historical pace

Feb. 24—Last season, the Lewis-Clark State track and field program had two national champions — indoor and outdoor high jumps, both won by Jennah Carpenter — and had 12 All-American finishes.

The program followed arguably its best season ever with one that has the potential to blow 2023 out of the water.

The Warriors, in the indoor track and field season alone, have achieved 24 national qualifying times and marks, and 20 athletes will be heading to the NAIA indoor national championship meet Feb. 29-March 2 in Brookings, S.D.

The follow-up from last year would be impressive for any program. But it's even more impressive considering what the Warriors have had to deal with this season to get to that point.

Due to not having any indoor training facilities, LCSC has to practice outside and deal with the cold and precipitation for the majority of the indoor season, and portions of the outdoor season depending on where the wheel for northern Idaho weather lands on.

The Warriors run their practices at Vollmer Bowl. The harsh rain and snowfall that hit the region in January was already something to work around, and a water mainline burst that resulted in a landslide at Vollmer Bowl on Jan. 23 only exacerbated the issue.

Even dealing with those conditions, LCSC still managed to finish the regular season with what is believed to be its most indoor national qualifiers ever.

"First and foremost, it's been enjoyable to watch," 27th-year coach Mike Collins said. "My job as a coach is to help (the athletes) achieve and do everything we possibly can to put them in a position to perform at their best. And to see some of them coming into that type of form and performing at a level we believe they're capable of and maybe at times they're not sure they are ... (it's) enjoyable and very satisfying from that perspective."

Collins and the rest of the coaching staff have put heavy emphasis over the last few seasons on offseason training regiments. The summer is usually when the team can practice for the longest consecutive amount of time without being encumbered by the weather. The adjusted offseason training program and the in-season training has been something that all of the athletes have pointed to as a huge reason for their improvement.

"It's a very trust-the-process type of situation," LCSC athlete and Lewiston High School grad Madigan Kelly said. "Us going into more outdoor (practice) and hitting those times and (personal records) we want to hit as we get closer to nationals — it's all falling into place. It's hard because you think 'is that working?' Because we're in colder seasons and then we have outdoor season. We don't have an indoor facility, so it's hard to tell if all that's working, but it's all falling into place."

The Warriors will have to wait until at least Thursday to see if the training pays more dividends in the form of national championships and All-American honors, but the program has already made history in more ways than just the sheer quantity of qualifiers.

Jed Barnaby of Scappoose, Ore., became the first runner in LCSC history, man or woman, to qualify nationally in the 60-meter run and his best time this season in just his second year with the program.

"I think we had a lot of stuff that kind of got in our way of the training," Barnaby said. "Whether that be the really extreme weather or the track issues. But I think (our success) was just staying determined, staying true to your reps, staying true to your rest and trusting the coaches. And I think (it's) about what you want to put out there. What you want to put out on that line and what you want to do with your career here."

Kelly and Barnaby are a couple of the athletes at the forefront of the Warriors' recent success. Kelly, Barnaby, Carpenter, Sydnie Zywina, Trenton Johnson, London Kirk, Emily Collins, Christian Bothwell and Geraldin Correa are just a few of the many Idaho or Pacific Northwest natives who achieved national qualifying status this season for LCSC.

Collins has emphasized local recruiting during his time as coach and it's paid dividends.

Most of the local athletes have competed against each other, or know somebody who's competed against them, during their time in middle school and high school and a few already had established friendships or were acquainted with each other before arriving at LCSC.

In the words of the athletes and Collins, this helps motivate the team. Seeing their friends continue to improve and represent their local communities makes other athletes want to do better. In a sport where individual results are often at the forefront, that kind of team chemistry is rare and has helped the team, as a whole, reach the standards that they and Collins believe they're capable of.

The local focus of Collins' recruiting has also helped create a family dynamic in the program.

"All my family and friends back home — it means so much more when that success is shared," said Zywina, an Orofino High School grad. "The support from all my friends and family back home really helps a lot."

The success of the Warriors track and field program to this point has been a culmination of all the things a program wishes for: established success to build on, team chemistry, local support and, of course, talent.

And it's not done yet.

With indoor nationals and the entire outdoor season still on the horizon, there's a legitimate chance that when summer rolls around, with the pace the team is on, 2024 will be remembered as the best year in the history of the program. It helps that there's still an entire outdoor season (in better weather) for the athletes to improve

"I feel way faster this year than I did last year," Johnson said. "With the cold we haven't gone up to speed quite as much as we could have if it was warm outside. But going into outdoors, the weather's going to get better, we're going to start running faster in practices. And as a team we're just going to get faster and peak out higher during outdoor season."

Kowatsch can be contacted at 208-848-2268, or on Twitter @Teren_Kowatsch.