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Wichita State’s Bahner finds success in track multi-events

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, March 6, 2013, at 6:43 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, March 7, 2013, at 7:24 a.m.

Austin Bahner grew up loving basketball and played on a Class 6A championship team at Heights. Former Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon talked to him about walking on.

“I still miss it,” he said. “I see it on TV and I see a lot of my former players, teammates, playing at the higher levels. I’m happy for them, but I’m glad where I’m at.”

Bahner, a heptathlete, couldn’t turn down WSU and he is one of four Shockers qualified for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships beginning Friday in Fayetteville, Ark. WSU coach Steve Rainbolt sold him on the idea of competing in the multi-events. Bahner ran track in high school mainly to stay in shape for basketball and soccer.

“He wasn’t nearly into track and field as much as basketball,” Rainbolt said. “Somehow, he knew he had a future in track and field.”

After a redshirt year, Bahner proved Rainbolt’s instincts correct. He won the Missouri Valley Conference indoor long jump with a leap of 24 feet, 8 1/2 inches in 2011. This year, he won the MVC heptathlon with a score of 5,645 points, third in WSU history, and qualified for the NCAA meet.

“He is wired for track and field,” Rainbolt said. “He can sprint and he can jump and he can throw. He’s become legitimately fast for a decathlon man.”

Bahner won the 60-meter dash (7.01 seconds), the long jump (23-9) and the shot put (44-2 1/2) in the MVC meet. His time in the 1,000 meters (2:44.36) earned him second place and played a key role in the title and his spot in the national meet.

The variety of the multi-events appeals to Bahner.

“It was fun to learn all the new events,” he said. “Pole vault is one of my favorite events. I’m just now starting to figure out hurdles, and it’s getting to be fun.”

Distance runner Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton will run the 3,000 and the 5,000. Tanya Friesen will compete in the pentathlon and J’Lynn Ledesma will high jump.

New plan — Tuliamuk-Bolton is a veteran of NCAA meets and will make her third appearance at the indoor championships.

Those experiences teach her that sometimes planning doesn’t pay off.

“I’ve gone to nationals before with a specific strategy,” she said. “And I realize when the gun goes off, it doesn’t work out. I’ve been to national meets where you expect it to be a really fast race, but then it ends being really slow. I guess I’m going to go and see what everybody else does.”

Tuliamuk-Bolton owns the NCAA’s career fifth-fastest time in the 5,000 at 15:25:47. In the 3,000, she holds the MVC record at 9:07.21. She finished third in the 5,000 in last year’s NCAA meet and Rainbolt hopes a better kick will put her in contention to win.

“Aliphine is an endurance-oriented athlete, and the 10,000 is her best race,” he said. “She ran with a better kick at the conference meet in the mile than normal, and is running faster in the mile than ever before, which indicates that she is getting faster.”

Winning numbers — WSU’s softball team didn’t win its ninth game of 2012 until mid-April. The Shockers are 9-9 after going 4-1 in the Coastal Carolina Tournament last weekend.

“Last year, we never got off on the right foot,” coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “We never really could get any kind of momentum. You had to feel for our pitching staff last year … because they were trying to work through a new pitching coach, a new mentality, a new style and playing against some of the best hitters in the nation.”

Bredbenner assembled a more reasonable schedule in her second season and it is paying off. WSU’s ERA is 2.51, down from 5.37 in 2012. Senior Katie Armagost (2.98 ERA) owns six complete games in eight starts, two fewer than last season. Junior Sloan Anderson (1.86) also has six complete games.

“It’s a completely different story,” Bredbenner said. “They have much better command and much more confidence.”

The Shockers play host to Nebraska starting with a 2 p.m. doubleheader Saturday at Wilkins Stadium. Those games start an eight-game homestand that includes the MVC opener against Indiana State on March 16.

WSU sophomore Brianne Bond was named MVC player of the week after going 7 for 14 with a home run in the tournament.

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