LEWISTON — Years of national notoriety for its throwing exploits have put Bates College track and field on the NCAA Division III map.
Balance, depth and distance prowess made it the capital of the northeast this winter.
The Bates men achieved a first in the history of the program, winning the New England Division III championship Feb. 18.
For an encore, the Bobcats bagged the ECAC championship March 3.
“It’s been the entire program, because we’ve had contributions everywhere,” Bates coach Al Fereshetian said. “Last year it was pretty much on the back of the throwers. We were going into these big meets knowing we were going to score a certain number of points to begin with. We graduated two, so we needed other elements of the team to step up and the distance guys have done that.”
Nobody in the nation will blink to see NCAA indoor shot put champion David Pless trying to defend that title while also ranked among the top contenders in the 35-pound weight throw at the championships in Grinnell, Iowa, this weekend.
What might catch the competition by surprise is the sight of Bates’ distance medley relay team challenging for All-America honors.
It’s the first time Bates has ever qualified in the event. Juniors James LePage of Cumberland and Nick Barron and joined by sophomores Ben Levy and Noah Graboys in the quartet.
“A huge part of the team this year is the resurgence of the distance and middle distance program,” Fereshetian said. “In cross country we made it to nationals, placed seventh and had an All-American.”
Tully Hannan achieved that status for the Bobcats, Bates’ first All-American in cross country since 2006. Graboys also was a scorer at nationals.
It continued a progression from 2010, when Bates believed it was worthy of an at-large berth to the cross country nationals and was passed over.
Distance medley relay then was displaced from indoor nationals by a fraction of a second on the final weekend of qualifying.
“That all put a chip on their shoulders. They wanted to develop and improve,” Fereshetian said. “It was that ‘we’re not going to let this happen again’ mentality.”
Bates was ranked No. 17 in the nation when it topped No. 12 MIT by eight points at New Englands.
In addition to Pless’ win in shot put and runner-up effort in the weight throw, LePage won the 800 championship. Sean Enos (shot put), David Hardison of South Portland (heptathlon) and the DMR team all celebrated second-place finishes.
The 4x800 relay team of LePage, Barron, Peter Corcoran and John Stansel joined Pless and Hardison as ECAC event winners.
“We’re still quite strong in throws but not as deep as we’ve been, so we’ve had to make up for it elsewhere,” Fereshetian said.
Bates also will send its women’s DMR squad to nationals. The foursome of Kallie Nixon, Tina Tobin, Sarah Fusco and Bud Arens is ranked fifth in the country.