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A hard year, and a big win

A hard year, and a big win

Doane's track and field team stands with the NAIA national championship banner.

After all the national attention and nearly a century of track and field achievements, Doane University finally had a championship banner, a trophy and a midnight parade in Crete to celebrate the Tigers’ first NAIA national championship for men’s track and field in school history.

The Tigers gained track glory under a series of legendary coaches — in the 1920s under coach Ward Haylett, the 1940s under Jim Dutcher, the 1950s and 1960s under Al Papik and through the present day behind coach Fred Beile and current head coach Ed Fye.

In late May, that century of hard work crystallized into celebrations that spanned from Alabama to Crete.

When 4x400 anchor Zach Turner, a freshman from Crete, sped from seventh to fourth place, the men’s track and field team claimed its first national championship. The women’s track and field team has also claimed national titles, in 2001 and 2002. 

“In the hospital, I was getting yelled at to ‘keep it down,’” said Doane marathon runner Alec Wick. The first Doane all-American in the marathon, Wick had scored a sixth-place finish for a crucial three team points the day before. He was watching the meet on video stream in the hospital, taking in four pints of fluids because he dragged himself across the finish line in the Alabama heat. 

“I couldn’t settle down,” Wick, a graduate from Blair, said. “I know these guys. I love these guys. It is so cool. It was nuts.”

His team was screaming along the final stretch of the track. Head coach Fye and his assistants were barely breathing – hoping against hope their calculations were correct.

“The Doane tradition. The Doane family had a national championship,” said Fye, who worked and competed for Beile and coached alongside the late hall of fame coach before taking over the reins 19 years ago.

“We had Darren Harsin [former NAIA champ and Doane Hall of Fame member] speak to the team before we left town,” Fye said. “He said we all knew about taking performances to the next level. We all knew the culture and the traditions at Doane.

“Then, he asked a couple of individuals to introduce themselves. They’d say their name and their event. He said, ‘Your answer should be, ‘I am Doane track and field.’ That is your identity.’”

Without an individual national champ, the Tigers counted on all 20 men who made the championships to tie Madonna University for the national title.

“We counted on all our guys, all our team back in Crete, all our women, the whole school,” Fye said. 

“This is unforgettable,” he said. “The kids, the alumni, the administration, the community, the parents – this is why Doane is unique.”

Levi Sudbeck, a senior from Pierce High School in Hadar, Neb., a two-time NAIA national heptathlon champion, finished sixth in the decathlon, second in the pole vault despite a balky elbow to lead the scoring for the Tigers. Teammate Connor Floyd finished third in the pole vault. 

“Your body is telling you to quit and you keep going,” said Sudbeck, also a four-year defensive back and punter for the Tigers. “You can get rehydrated after you compete.”

“Nobody is going to let anybody down on this team.” 

Witt is a prime example of what Sudbeck said.

This was Wick’s first time competing in the marathon at the NAIA championships. With four miles left, in the Alabama heat and humidity, he was done. Fifteen other competitors had already dropped out.

“I was just about down, and this guy passed me and came back and talked me through the finish,” said Wick. George Beddow of Rocky Mountain College told Wick somebody had helped him two years earlier. “He got me to near the finish and my teammates and family cheered through the end.

“That’s a Doane experience.”

Fye, who was named co-national coach of the year, said the fact his team was never satisfied was crucial.

“Every single kid, from the guys at the championships to the kids, who came out for track for four years, the ones who battled through the COVID year of no outdoor track, the ones who gave everything made this happen,” he said.

“We just went through our hardest year, with the pandemic and no season,” he said. “The kids did it. They did the work and gave everything. 

“They deserved it. Doane deserves it.”