by Catherine Bennett
Social Media Manager
The Rochester University Track and Field team started its season with a stellar performance on Saturday, Jan. 30, at Aquinas College after two athletes crushed three school records in the first indoor meet of the year.
Athletes often expect their first meet of the year to be challenging, and delays because of the COVID pandemic made it even more so this year, but Natalie Kutzli and Andrew Shankster both had brilliant starts to their indoor season.
Natalie Kutzli, a sophomore pre-physical therapy major, is a thrower on the track and field team; however, she has been itching to try out long jump since she stepped foot on Rochester’s campus. Head Coach Sean Foulkes made a last-minute call to allow Kutzli to jump. She broke the school record of 4.67 meters, which was set in 1997, with a jump of 4.71 meters. According to Rochester University’s official school records, this was one of the longest standing records in program history.
“Natalie is an outstanding student athlete in our program and one that is as versatile as she is talented,” Foulkes said. “Not only did she break the school record for long jump, but she will be a clear favorite to break the discus record here as well.”
In addition to breaking the long jump record, Kutzli scored points in shotput and weight throw, and finished by anchoring the 4x400 meter relay, which was another quick decision made by Foulkes.
“This season has been a grind for sure,” Kutzli said, “Working outside year-round definitely takes some dedication, and I am proud to be a part of a group of athletes who are out there working hard everyday, no matter the conditions.”
Another RU athlete who competed well was Andrew Shankster, a freshman business management major, who competes as a thrower. This Aquinas meet was his first collegiate competition, and he began it by breaking the oldest school record in program history.
Almost to the exact same day that the old record was set, Shankster smashed the shotput record, which had been held for 30 years. The old record of 12 meters in shotput was set in 1988, and Shankster replaced it with a powerful 13.24 meter throw.
“I knew that I had competitive marks coming into the season,” Shankster said. “It's been a long time coming, but I’m happy to be competing.”
After shotput, Shankster shattered another school record. The weight throw, which is the indoor equivalent to the hammer throw, was the most exciting event to watch. The previous RU record was 11.66 meters, and Shankster recorded a 14.92 meter toss.
Foulkes said he looks forward to the spring, where it looks like Shankster will be breaking more records in his main event of discus. “Be on the lookout for not just conference titles in his future, but national championship appearances," Foulkes said.
But it doesn’t stop there. The track and field program is shifting into a new phase, with Foulkes’ recent promotion to head coach from assistant throws coach. “I want to continue building our numbers in the short term, and in the future, I want to compete for a conference title and send our kids to nationals,” Foulkes said.
Other new hires include Coach Marques Johnson, who will be leading sprints, jumps, and javelin, and Coach Andrew Bowman, who will assist the distance and Cross Country team.
Johnson said he is looking forward to being a part of the RU program.
“In a short time, I’ve seen a drive and an energy in the athletes that grows my excitement more and more each day I come to practice,” Johnson said.
Foulkes said he is especially enthusiastic for the outdoor season to begin, and is expecting to see some great numbers. Not only will Kutzli be in the top of the conference for long jump and discus, and Shankster in discus and hammer, but he expects other athletes to excel as well. He said Lilly Livsey, a junior business management, is on a path to crush the hammer and shotput record, and Cate Bennett, an interdisciplinary studies major in business and mass communication, is headed toward breaking the women’s javelin record. Aside from the throws squad, Andre Daniels, a sophomore mass communication major, is currently ranked just outside the NAIA top 25 high jumpers in the nation and is inching closer to the school’s high jump record.
According to RU’s official school records, the track and field athletes have broken 10 records in the last two years. Foulkes says he believes a total of 20 records have the potential to be broken this season.
These noteworthy accomplishments are direct results of the team’s grit and perseverance through the pandemic. The athletes are not allowing any restrictions to affect their training. In fact, you will see the squad bundled up outside at Reuther Middle School, dusting off the track (and circle) they’re about to train on.