The 2019 Appalachian Athletic Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships are scheduled to start on Valentine’s Day. It makes sense Milligan College Head Coach Chris Layne loves where his teams stand heading in.
“It’s a great feeling to open up the performance lists and see such a competitive championship,” Layne said. “This event is in its infant stages and literally overnight it has turned into a real championship. We have an excellent venue and a top-notch meet organizer. This is going to be exciting.”
Milligan has plenty of which to be excited. No. 25 nationally on the women’s side and No. 21 on the men’s side, Layne is sending seven Buffs who own the AAC’s top mark and 29 Buffs who rank in the AAC’s top five in their event. In fact, Milligan leads the AAC with 11 of the league’s 46 national qualifiers.
“Overall, we’re in really good shape,” Layne said. “I think most of our top folks are trending in the right direction. We had a little sickness and a few niggles hit us, but I think we’re over the hump there.”
Senior Liz Maller and sophomore Tim Thacker lead the way for the Buffs with two of the AAC’s top marks each. Maller is No. 1 in the weight throw and No. 1 in the shot put after winning one of her signature events on three occasions this season. Most recently, Maller broke her own Milligan record in each event, posting throws of 17.39m and 13.75m, respectively, at the Camel City Invitational, the same location as the upcoming AAC Championships.
Thacker is No. 1 in the 1k and No. 1 in the mile, although Layne said Thacker will step down in distance to run the 800 instead of the mile. Thacker ranks No. 2 in the AAC in the 800 while also ranking No. 3 nationally in the mile and No. 4 nationally in the 1k.
Other Buffs who rank at the top of the conference include freshman Rasheem Brown, junior Erica Stone, junior Tons Ferguson and the women’s distance medley relay team of freshman Gabrielle Mardis, sophomore Valentina Kenjeres, freshman Bekah Owen and Stone.
Brown is No. 1 in the 60 meter hurdles, both in the AAC and NAIA. He also ranks No. 6 in the AAC in the 60 meter dash. Stone is No. 1 in the AAC in the 1k and No. 4 in the NAIA in the 1k. She also ranks No. 20 nationally over 800 meters and plans to compete in the 4 x 800 meter relay in addition to the women’s DMR.
Ferguson ranks No. 1 in the triple jump and no. 3 in the long jump. He also ranks No. 6 nationally in the triple. Rounding out the list of Milligan’s top AAC performances this season is the women’s DMR, which ranks No. 13 nationally.
Several more Buffs rank in the AAC’s top five, including a few who own multiple top-five rankings. Owen is No. 2 in the 1k, behind Stone, and No. 3 in the 800; Mardis is No. 4 in the 5k and No. 4 in the mile; Eric Shull is No. 3 in the 3k and No. 4 in the mile; Seth Nicol ranks No. 5 in the 5k and No. 5 in the mile; and Noah Bise is No. 2 in the long jump and No. 4 in the high jump.
“There are a ton of AAC records up for grabs this weekend,” Layne said, “and I think this meet has turned into an event where we could see a few more national marks by the time it’s all over.”
Action is set to get under way Thursday at 6 p.m., beginning with the women’s 60 meter dash preliminaries. Competition will conclude Friday with the men’s 4 x 400 meter relay at 3:25 p.m. The event will take place at the JDL Fast Track in Winston Salem, North Carolina. It will be Milligan’s second trip to the JDL Fast Track this season.