Times Sports Editor
The 2012-13 collegiate indoor track and field season is already in full swing, and former Northview High School standout Joel Whittington is already in the early stages of a break out year at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.
The Little Giant sophomore began his season with a trip to Indiana University to compete in the Hoosier Open early in December and came home with a school record in the 300-meter dash. He was just one of several Wabash track and field athletes competing against Division I athletes from Indiana, Kentucky, Ball State and Butler in the meet, and he shattered the former Wabash mark with a time of 35.32. The old record of 35.90 was set by teammate John Haley in 2011. His effort in the event was good for third-place overall in a race won by Kentucky's Keith Hayes (34.73).
Whittington is no stranger to owning school records as he holds Northview High School records in the 110-meter high hurdles (14.52), 300-meter hurdles (38.68) and 400-meters (49.89). While focusing mainly on hurdle events during his high school career, Whittington showed the versatility that college coaches covet when he broke the 400-meter record despite running the event just once his senior year.
Competing in the IHSAA State Finals his senior season, Whittington placed third in the 300-meter hurdles, re-setting his school record with a time of 38.39. His current Wabash teammate, Nathan Mueller of East Noble High School, won the event.
Despite his high school accomplishments, making the transition to college competition and training took some adjustment during Whittington's freshman year.
"Joel has settled in well after a rough start as a freshman. His main events are the 400, 110 hurdles and the 4x400 relay outdoors and the 400, 200 and 60 hurdles indoor with a focus on the 400 hurdles and 4x400 relay on the national level," Wabash head track and field coach Clyde Morgan said. "He struggled in the weight room and the long endurance training at first. The main reason was because it was all new to him. It took him a few practices to understand speed development and pace, slowly but surely it clicked. He was a valuable component to us repeating as NCAC indoor and outdoor champions."
Whittington's determination was always one of his strengths while at Northview and it carried over to college where his improvement during his freshman campaign lead him to earning a spot on a talented 4x400 relay squad.
In the North Coast Athletic Conference outdoor meet in the spring, Whittington placed second in the 400-meter hurdles (54.79) and teamed with Garett Bonk, Cole Hruskovich and Joseph Conti to take the runner-up spot in the 1,600 relay (3:20.10). The effort was simply a tune-up for what was to come as Whittington, Jake Waterman, John Haley and Hruskovich blasted to a time of 3:12.55 a week later in the Dr. Keeler Invitational at North Central College in Naperville, Ill. The run broke the school record and was the fourth fastest time amongst Div. III schools to that point.
The school record run by the 4x400 squad qualified them for a trip to the 2012 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Claremont, Calif., along with four other teammates.
"He worked very hard and earned his spot on an already nationally ranked relay team. He was the only freshman on it. He ran his best when it was needed," Morgan said. "He ran the first leg, running a 47.76 split helping us to qualify for the national meet in California."
In the preliminary round at nationals, the group clocked the second-fastest time in school history (3:14.24) to place eighth as the top-nine teams advanced to the finals. In the final round, Wabash finished ninth, missing the podium by one spot in a time of 3:16.63.
Morgan believes that finish will simply provide that much more motivation during the 2013 season for Whittington.
"As a sophomore, Joel owns three school records, two relays and one open event. The sky is the limit for him. We are focusing on getting better every day and in every way," Morgan said of his sophomore. "Last year we talked more about conference. This year more of our focus is on nationals. He is a different young man this year. He trains harder and he is tougher. He doesn't back down or get intimidated in big races and that is hard to find in young student athletes. I expect him to continue to be coachable, trust and understand the training and to have fun doing so."
Wabash continues its indoor track and field season this weekend with a home meet in the Robert H. Johnson Little Giant Invitational beginning at noon. On Jan. 26, Wabash competes at Rose-Hulman in the Engineer Invitational at 12:30 p.m.