RIVERSIDE, Calif. (BP)–Even though the team doesn’t have a hurdler, members of the California Baptist University men’s track and field team know how to clear an obstacle.
Without benefit of a track facility, the Lancers earned the university’s first-ever national title at this year’s NAIA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Cal Baptist beat defending champion Lindenwood College by 15 points, while being outmanned by more than a 2-1 ratio on its roster.
Cal Baptist became just the second West Coast team to ever win the title, with Azusa Pacific University being the first in 1996. The man at the helm of both those teams is head coach Irv Ray, who took over the Lancer program last season.
“We were just at a terrible disadvantage going into this meet,” said Ray, who earned his seventh national title with the victory. “We don’t have any ‘home field’ advantage for meets, and we only get to practice on a track two days a week.”
Although a track and field facility is in Cal Baptist’s future plans, the team practiced on a grass-covered soccer field and did its long jumping into a sand pit in an undeveloped area of the campus. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Ray and his team traveled 45 minutes to Citrus College to use its track facility.
“When I decided to come here,” Ray recounted, “the Lord really helped facilitate some things to make us successful, so I just turned the whole team and my coaching over to him. God took me at my word and put things in motion.”
“I really believe that God gives glory to those who are going to glorify him the most, and we give him all the thanks for what has happened to us,” said team captain Ricky Etheridge. “Going through this whole thing has strengthened my faith because I know he is the reason I was there.”
Etheridge is a prime example of how God worked to bring the team together. As a former state champion in the mile at the junior college level as a freshman, Etheridge had some knee problems his sophomore season. When he got to the state finals and wasn’t able to perform like he wanted, he walked off the track and away from the sport.
Etheridge spent the next six months without running or participating in the sport at all before contacting Ray and making the decision to come to Riverside and join the Lancers.
Nathan Browne, co-captain with Etheridge on this year’s championship squad, completed his fourth season on the Lancer track team. Slated to go to Cal Poly Pomona, Brown was contacted by Cal Baptist coaches late in his senior year at Victor Valley High School and made the decision to join the Lancers.
“They offered me a chance to run in college and I liked the small-school atmosphere,” Browne recalled. “People have come and gone around here [over the last four years], and this was the last opportunity for us [as a group] to put it together. This is just a big relief.
“This team really came together through meetings, talks and a lot of prayer. Without that, we wouldn’t have been able to do this at all,” Brown said.
Etheridge teamed with Browne, James Adams and Milton Browne to set a new national record in the 4×800-meter relay, snapping the tape in 7:31.55. Cal Baptist set the old record in 1998.
Etheridge — named “Athlete of the Meet” at the Feb. 27 championships in Lincoln, Neb. — also won the mile in 4:05 and was on the winning distance medley relay team. He rounded out his efforts with a third-place finish in the 1,000-meter run.
Other winners for the Lancers included Kris Bowditch in the 3,000-meter run (8:14), Jimmy Divine in the long jump (24′, 5″) and Eric Boykin in the triple jump (51′, 3″). Milton Browne finished first in the 600 meters, but was disqualified for stepping out of his lane.
The remaining team members are Thomas Beese, Michael Elliot, Ricardo Etheridge, Obed Fernandez, Donny Jackson, Andre Moss, Robert Niemi, David Ostrus, Kenneth Royal, Eric Shirley, Jayson Swigart and Ricardo Valenzuela.
Allen is assistant to the director for institutional relations at Cal Baptist.