Loras College women’s track & field head coach Matt Jones (’05) was cheering on his 4×400- meter relay team of Bella Solis (’20), Allie Serres (’19), Alexis Alt (’20) and Stevie Lambe (’22), trying to take it all in. His team was lining up for the final race of the 2019 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field National Championship – an event that had turned out to be a Cinderella story. Jones was trying to focus on the race happening in front of him, but he was also anxiously awaiting the end of the long jump finals to learn if his team’s points would hold to win the national title.
He had never been in this position before.
Across the field, the long jump competition reached its conclusion and it became clear that WashU would not add to their point total. Loras had claimed the team title.
For Jones, in that moment, there was a whirlwind of emotions. An entire season of hard work sparked by the team’s fourth-place finish at the NCAA Division III Indoor Track & Field National Championship in March had come to a close in the most fitting fashion. The Duhawks had just won the college’s first NCAA Division III national title, crowning three individual champions and the program’s first relay national champion along the way.
It seemed everything that needed to fall into place for the Duhawks to make history did. On the first day of competition, Loras qualified athletes in three preliminary events, sending Solis to the 400-meter hurdle finals, Gabrielle Noland (’20) to the 200-meter finals and the 4×400-meter relay team to Saturday’s race. That evening, Kassie Rosenbum (’21) gave the Duhawks their first 10 points and individual champion of the weekend, winning the 10,000-meter run in a time of 35:39.98. She had entered the race as the seventh-seeded runner and stunned the field with the performance of a lifetime, becoming the first 10,000-meter champion in program history.
The 4×100-meter relay of Terrianna Black (’20), Alt, Solis and Noland got things started for the Duhawks Saturday afternoon after Noland took the handoff from Solis and sprinted to the finish line to edge out Rhode Island College’s Emma Landroche for the national title.
“Before they went to the blocks, I told them, ‘Look, if we put this race together, it is ours for the taking. It only takes one time for it to all come together,’” said Jones. “And that’s what happened. We had our best performance of the season, both in their time and execution. That race will always resonate with me because it was our first relay national title.”
The day was just getting started for the Duhawks and the points continued to add up as Noland won the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.48, breaking her own record set one day prior. She later delivered as the favorite to win the 200-meter dash, setting a new NCAA Division III championship, college and conference record with a time of 23.44. Solis came up just short of a national title in the 400-meter hurdles, diving at the finish line with a time of 59.02, just fourtenths of a second behind Emory University’s Dilys Osei, but still scoring a second-place finish and eight team points for Loras. Rosenbum helped extend the lead even further with a tremendous 5,000-meter race, placing sixth and totaling 13 points for the team in her events.
Months removed from the championship, the Duhawks have continued to celebrate the accomplishment as Jones was named the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Division III National Coach of the Year, and Noland was selected as the Performer of the Meet, National Female Track Athlete of the Year and a finalist for the Honda DIII Collegiate Women’s Sport Award (CWSA) Athlete of the Year honor.
Jones has been able to take some time to reflect on the experience and begin planning for 2020. He already had athletes reach out to him asking for workouts over the summer, hungry for another national title.
“This is why I love my job: I love this team, and I love coaching for my alma mater,” said Jones. “I don’t know if I have ever truly thanked [the team] as a group for the work they have put in. I’m ready to get the team together and truly celebrate what we did. I’m ready to do it again.”