Though no banners were claimed, Thunderbirds put on a dominant show at NAIA Track Championships

After three days of competition at the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Gulf Shores, Alabama, the UBC Thunderbirds men’s and women’s teams headed home with third and second place finishes respectively — just shy of those championship banners.

Their success followed their NAIA championship win last year on the men’s side, while the women finished in fourth place.

“Both the men’s and women’s teams went to Gulf Shores to compete for the championship title. Down to the very end of the meet, every UBC athlete competed with determination, collectedness, and guts, and we came darn close to that goal,” team veteran and graduating athlete Jeff Groh said in an email to The Ubyssey. “Finishing where we did was in no way a disappointment, but I know this team won’t be complacent moving forward, and will be back to compete for the title next year.”

In the opening day of the event on Thursday, Roan Allen got UBC on the scoreboard with a 62.48-metre throw in javelin — a fourth place finish in the event.

The women’s 4 x 800-metre kept the ball rolling for UBC on Friday with a record NAIA time of 8:43.83 to claim gold. Race walker Alger Liang also earned a silver medal with a final time of 21:50.51, his second straight silver medal in the event.

Saturday was the ultimate day for points for UBC, with most of the final races scheduled throughout the day. The women in particular came out fighting, and were just two points shy of that gold medal for the team in the end.

Highlights included the trio of Natalia Hawthorn, Sandra Kilmartin and Nicola Symonds claiming second through fourth in the 1,500-metre final — Hawthorn took home bronze in the women’s 800-metre too, with Symonds and teammate Mikayla Tinkham also impressing for UBC. In the 3,000-metre, Madelyn Brunt and Brianna Cairns claimed fourth and fifth to continue the point streak for the T-Birds.

Rookie Jessica Williams also continued to impress, this time setting a new personal best in the 400-metre hurdles with a fifth place finish in 1:00.81. In the field events, Olivia Campbell had a strong showing in the high jump, finishing in a three-way tie for sixth with a 1.68-metre jump.

And, in a show of resilience, Enid Au — who was unable to finish the 10,000-metre racewalk earlier in the competition — pushed to a fifth place finish the 5,000-metre final.

For the men, John Gay stole the show with a gold medal in the 3,000-metre steeplechase with a time of 9:04.36 and a silver medal in the 5,000-metres with a time of 14:42.18. Teammate Kieran Lumb finished less than a second behind him to take home bronze.

As always, the Thunderbirds also put out a dominating roster for the men’s 1,500-metre, with Charlie Dannatt crossing the line in sixth place, followed by Lumb and Groh in seventh and eighth respectively.

For Groh, the meet had particular importance as it capped off his Thunderbirds career.

“This championship brought closure to my personal journey as a UBC Thunderbird. For one, it gave a sense of redemption after prolonged struggles with life balance and injury,” he said. “... what really sunk in and made this championship different from previous ones was the recognition of what a privilege it is to be healthy, and to be able to represent my school alongside my best friends and phenomenal coaches, competing in a sport that we love.”

Though the teams didn’t manage to claim team banners this time around, it was a weekend to celebrate, as athletes from rookie to veteran represented the Thunderbirds well in both track and field events.

Maybe next year is the year to claim both banners.