PITTSBURG, Kan. – The Bethel College men’s track and field program is coming off a historic performance at the NAIA Indoor National Championship held over the weekend at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. The Pilots celebrated two individual national champions, setting and breaking a national record, five All-Americans, and a program-best finish in the championship meet.
Erik Escobedo, a senior from Mishawaka, earned his second individual national title in as many meets, with the top finish in the men’s weight throw on Friday. After winning the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) individual national title in the weight throw on February 16-17, Escobedo was crowned atop the NAIA weight throw competition. In both meets, Escobedo broke the respective national championship record marks, with a 21.12m throw in the NCCAA championship meet, followed by a 21.73m throw in the NAIA championship meet.
For his record-breaking performance this year, Escobedo was also named the NAIA’s Outstanding Performer of the Meet on the men’s side, the highest individual honor an athlete can receive. In his first attempt, Escobedo broke the standing national record of 21.31m with a 21.57m toss of his own. No one else in the competition would manage to break the 21m mark in any of their attempts. It was in Escobedo’s third attempt of six that he shattered the record and personal best mark with a 21.73m toss to secure the program’s fifth individual national title since 2000. Escobedo was the national runner-up at the NAIA Indoor National Championship as a junior last season and earns his second NAIA All-American honor in the indoor weight throw.
“It’s bittersweet because this is the last time I’ll ever pick up a college weight and the emotions haven’t set in yet, but it will soon,” commented Escobedo. “Now I get to look forward to the hammer [in the outdoor season].
“It was not a matter of if, but when, I could break the national record,” added Escobedo. “I’d done it multiple times in practice, but [Friday] I showed up and showed what Bethel is all about. I couldn’t have done it without my family, all my friends and supporters, those that have helped me along the journey. I have to thank God first because He’s the one who put me here.”
If that were not enough for the Bethel track and field program, Jordan Downs, a junior from Merrillville, followed up his own NCCAA individual national title in the long jump, with an NAIA individual national title of his own on Saturday. Downs reached the pinnacle with a 7.65m mark in his fourth of six attempts. Downs earned the program’s sixth individual national title, and fourth in the last two seasons, after coming back from second place after three attempts to win by more than 0.2m ahead of his challengers.
The men’s team totaled five All-Americans during the three-day championship meet and finished with their highest point total ever, 27, in earning a fifth-place finish out of 63 competing teams represented.
This NAIA national championship that these two young men achieved is outstanding,” stated head coach Tony Natali. “They both showed great class as they reached the NAIA pinnacle of their respective events. Jordan came through in the clutch with a big jump in the finals for the Erik to be named Outstanding Male Performer of the Meet is an amazing honor. Any time an athlete can be named national player of the year is very special. As for the men’s team, a fifth-place finish is remarkable. It just goes to show what hard work, great coaching by our event coaches, and doing things the right way by putting Christ in the center can do. I am very proud of these guys. They have represented Bethel College well.”
The Pilots return to action to begin their outdoor season on March 24 in Marion, Indiana, as they compete in the Polar Bear Invitational hosted by Indiana Wesleyan.