NCAA & NJCAA ITF National Athletes of the Week (December 11)

NEW ORLEANS – If you can believe it, the indoor track & field season is already a few weeks old.

As athletes begin to shake out the cobwebs from a long offseason, we’re beginning to see some big marks.

Here are those athletes who stood out this past weekend and were named National Athletes of the Week by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) on Tuesday.

Find out more about each of these runners by clicking their names or scrolling below.

National Athlete of the Week is an award selected and presented by the USTFCCCA Communications Staff at the beginning of each week to eight collegiate track & field athletes (male and female for each of the three NCAA divisions and one NJCAA division).

Nominations are open to the public. Coaches and sports information directors are encouraged to nominate their student-athletes; as are student-athletes, their families and friends, and fans of their programs. Nominated athletes are noticed before those athletes found through searching TFRRS.

The award seeks to highlight not only the very best times, marks and scores on a week-to-week basis, but also performances that were significant on the national landscape and/or the latest in a series of strong outings. Quality of competition, suspenseful finishes and other factors will also play a role in the decision.

NCAA DIVISION I MEN – Brett Neelly, Kansas State

Senior | Throws
Gallatin, Tennessee

Brett Neelly started his indoor season with a bang.

The senior from Gallatin, Tennessee, recorded a PR of 20.15m (66-1½) in the shot put this past weekend at the K-State Winter Invitational and broke a school record that had stood for 37 years in the process. That heave demolished his previous best of 19.59m (64-3¼) that was established at the Texas Tech Corky/Crofoot Shootout last April.

Neelly has never competed at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships – but if history repeats itself, that will change in 2019. If Neelly threw what he did this year in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, he would have been third and sixth in the nation, respectively.

He is the first male athlete from Kansas State to be named National Athlete of the Week during the indoor season (Akela Jones was a three-time National Athlete of the Week in 2016).

NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN – Marie-Josée Ebwea-Bile, Kentucky

Senior | Jumps
Paris, France

Marie-Josee Ebwea-Bile put together a fantastic series in the triple jump this past weekend at the Hoosier Open in Bloomington, Indiana.

The senior from Paris recorded four marks that went farther than 13.50m (44-3½), including the winning effort of 13.78m (45-2½). Her top mark, which is an indoor PR, came on her first attempt of the meet and won the event by more than two feet.

This is the fourth year in a row that Kentucky has had a female athlete honored as National Athlete of the Week during the indoor season (Sydney McLaughlin and Olivia Gruver were honored in 2018, while Sha’Keela Saunders received accolades in both 2016 and 2017).

NCAA DIVISION II MEN – Isaac Grimes, Chadron State

Sophomore | Jumps
Moreno Valley, California

Isaac Grimes went off at the Colorado School of Mines Alumni Classic this past weekend across multiple events, but he saved his best for the long jump as he recorded some of the best performances in Division II history.

The sophomore’s best effort of 7.95m (26-1) tied him as the fourth-best performer with the fourth-best performance in NCAA DII history. His second best jump at the meet, which came in at 7.92m (25-11¾), is now the eighth-best performance all-time. Overall, three of his four jumps now sit in the all-time top-10 in NCAA DII history.

If that wasn’t good enough, Grimes also won the 60 in 6.85 and the set a school record in the triple jump at 15.03m (49-3¾). Both marks are NCAA provisional qualifiers.

Grimes is the first male athlete from Chadron State to be named National Athlete of the Week during the indoor season since DaMarcus Simpson in 2016.

NCAA DIVISION II WOMEN – Leah Hanle, Mount Olive

Junior | Distance
Lichtenstein, Germany

Leah Hanle got her indoor season started in a strong way at the Grand Valley State Holiday Open.

The junior clocked a time of 16:23.52 in the 5000 to finish runner-up behind Eastern Michigan’s Sydney Meyers, who finished in the top-100 at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. Hanle did cross the finish line more than one second ahead of NCAA Division II Cross Country individual champion Sarah Berger, who ran unattached.

The showing came just six days after the running of the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships, where she finished seventh overall.

Hanle is the first athlete from Mount Olive to be named National Athlete of the Week during the indoor season.

NCAA DIVISION III MEN – Patrick Mikel, Loras

Junior | Sprints
Lombard, Illinois

Patrick Mikel is looking to pick up where he left off last indoor season.

Mikel, who won the 400 at the NCAA Indoor Championships last year, recorded the division’s fastest time of the season to date in the event this past weekend. The junior from Lombard, Illinois, crossed the finish line first at the Dubuque Championships in 47.95 (converted down to a 47.20), which also was the fourth fastest mark across all collegiate divisions.

Later in the meet, Mikel anchored the 4×400 team from Loras to the second fastest mark of the season in NCAA DIII (3:22.39).

Mikel is the first male athlete from Loras to be named National Athlete of the Week during the indoor season.

NCAA DIVISION III WOMEN – Gabrielle Noland, Loras

Junior | Sprints
Rockford, Illinois

Things were just peachy for Gabrielle Noland this past weekend.

Noland, a junior from Rockford, Illinois, recorded the top times in NCAA Division III this season in both the 60 and the 200 at the Dubuque Championships. Her time of 7.63 in the shorter sprint was converted from 55 meters, while her time of 24.66 in the 200 was converted from 25.04 for track size.

The 200 is Noland’s signature event, as she qualified for the NCAA DIII Indoor Championships in each of the past two years. She finished 15th in 2017 and earned First-Team All-America honors in 2018 with a sixth-place effort.

Noland is the first female athlete from Loras to be named National Athlete of the Week during the indoor season.

NJCAA DIVISION I MEN – Kenny Bednarek, Indian Hills (Iowa) CC

Freshman | Sprints
Rice Lake, Wisconsin

Kenny Bednarek, who was one of the best high school sprinters in the nation last year, delivered on the hype in his first collegiate meet.

Bednarek posted a 45.93 performance in the 400 meters at the Mel Tjeerdsma Classic over the weekend. That time is the current collegiate and world leader and stands as the No. 3 all-conditions mark in the event in NJCAA history.

Needless to say, it is also an NJCAA provisional qualifying time.

Bednarek is the first male athlete from Indian Hills CC to be named National Athlete of the Week since Nathan Winters in 2017.

NJCAA DIVISION I WOMEN – Benadine Chelimo, Trinidad State JC

Sophomore | Distance
Eldoret, Kenya

Benadine Chelimo posted standout performances across two different events against strong fields at the Adams State Grizzly Open to kick off her indoor season.

The sophomore placed third in the mile with a time of 5:29.74 (5:12.74 converted) and took fifth in the 3000 with a 11:13.66 (10:35.74 converted). Both are provisional qualifying times for the NJCAA Championships.

Chelimo is the first female athlete from Trinidad State JC to be named National Athlete of the Week during the indoor season.