When sophomore Daniel Pietsch leaned forward from his starting blocks at the 2016 NCAA Division III Outdoor Championships this past Saturday, he was only a 400m race away from a winning a national title and making Emory history.
Pietsch was among seven Emory Eagles who competed in the NCAA Division III Outdoor Championships, which started Thursday, May 26, and ended Saturday, May 28, at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. Six of the seven Eagles earned All-American honors, placing Emory’s men’s and women’s track and field teams 23rd and 51st in the nation, respectively.
With a charging surge from behind in the final 100 meters, Pietsch held off James Wilson from Monmouth College (Ill.) by five hundredths of a second and earned the title of national champion with a new personal record of 46.92 seconds. In doing so, he broke the University record for the 400m and became only the second person in school history to earn a men’s outdoor national champion title.
“I had to stare at the scoreboard until it came up, just to be sure. It felt like I had [won], but it was too close to really know for sure,” Pietsch said. “I knew I had a shot to win and my coach kept telling me that I’d done everything I needed to — that I just needed to run my race how I’m supposed to. I actually didn’t run according to plan, but I managed to win, and I was just really, really excited afterwards — in awe that it actually happened.”
Pietsch qualified for the finals by placing third overall and second in his heat at Friday’s preliminary race, setting a personal record of 47.15 that lasted less than 22 hours. Last year, he placed eighth in the same event, and he was runner-up for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field National Championships in March.
“I love that the 400m is really short, but it’s long enough that it takes a lot of skill and determination,” Pietsch said. “It’s not short enough where you can just sprint the whole time. You really have to be strategic and push yourself a lot to run it fast.”
While Pietsch earned 10 of the 11 points that led to the men’s team’s 23rd place finish, senior Lukas Mees also contributed his share by becoming the first Emory men’s All-American in the 3,000m steeplechase. Mees qualified for the final race on Thursday with a preliminary time of 9:03.27. He placed eighth out of 14 in the final race on Saturday with a time of 9:19.62.
On the women’s side, senior Julie Williamson fell short of qualifying for the finals, placing 13th in the preliminary 800m with a time of 2:11:94 on Friday. Freshman Ariana Newhouse and sophomore Erica Goldman ran in the 400m prelims, placing 21st (56.84) and 22nd (57.15), respectively.
Although Goldman and Newhouse did not advance to the finals individually, their 4×400 relay team did. Alongside freshman Dilys Osei and sophomore Julia Leventhal, the women raced a 3:48.71 in the preliminary rounds on Thursday. On Saturday, they broke the school record with a time of 3:45.92, placing fourth in the event and ultimately earning the five points that earned the women’s team 51st place.
“Before we ran, we [tried] to keep each other relaxed,” Leventhal said. “Making the finals is the hard part. Once you’re there, it’s just about getting that competitive nature going and really racing. And afterwards, the first thing on our minds when we saw that we broke the school record — that was really crazy for us.”
The men’s team’s 23rd place finish is the Eagles’ best since 2008, a testament to the talent and perseverance of both the athletes and coaches.
While the 2016 season has come to an end, some Eagles are already looking past the finish line.
“Something really special about our team is that we’re particularly young,” Leventhal said. “We’ve tasted those little victories, so I think we will all continue to push each other next year. I personally think that within the next two years of that relay being together, we can get a national championship. It would take a perfect storm, but I think that we could definitely do that.”
For Pietsch, one national championship is not the be-all and end-all.
“The defending national champion from last year was injured, so I didn’t race him,” Pietsch said. “He’s not graduating. It’ll be harder next time. He’s run faster than my PR. That’s a goal, to win it again next year.”