Dakota Wesleyan's Wyatt Baldauf aims for All-American status at NAIA championships
The senior has qualified for the NAIA championships for cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field this year, and will compete in the 1,500 meters and 3,000-meter steeplechase.
MITCHELL — It's been a year to remember for Wyatt Baldauf, but the Dakota Wesleyan distance running standout has one more meet to put the finishing touches on a stellar senior campaign.
With a goal to end his career as an All-American, Baldauf is one of four Tigers heading to Marion, Indiana, for the NAIA outdoor track and field championships. For Baldauf, it's his third national championship event of the year.
"It's been a breakout year. I didn't really see this much coming on," Baldauf said of qualifying for the NAIA's cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field championships in the same year. "I had a pretty decent freshman year, but then my sophomore and junior years there were some coaching changes and I wasn't as dedicated as I was this year. So there were some bumps and I didn't expect it, but I'm glad for it to happen."
At this week's championships, the Seneca, Illinois, native has two events to attempt to earn All-American status, having qualified for the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 1,500-meter run. He'll compete in the semifinals of both events on Wednesday evening.
En route to qualification, Baldauf claimed the DWU records in both events with times of 9 minutes, 23.84 seconds, in the steeplechase and 3:54.22 in the 1,500 meters, the latter of which broke a record that had stood since 1984.
Added to the four school records he broke during the indoor season — 1,000 meters (2:30.25), one mile (4:12.71), 3,000 meters (8:26.67) and 5,000 meters (14:55.97) — it gives him a half-dozen records since the start of 2023. In the steeplechase, Baldauf's season-best time was good for automatic qualification by coming in ahead of the national 'A' standard, one of 19 athletes to do so in the championship field of 33 competitors. In the 1,500 meters, his time satisfied the national 'B' standard, ranking 36th of the 45 entrants in the event.
"I just have to get to the finals," Baldauf said of his mindset going into the races. "I learned the hard way at indoor nationals that championship racing is not always what you're used to. It's not always the fastest time wins, it's whoever wakes up that morning and has the best day that day. I'm just going to roll with each lap and hope for the best."
While Baldauf prefers the team aspect of cross country, he's found the unique challenge of the steeplechase, a distance running event with a series of hurdles and water pits mixed in that he picked up just last year.
"It's just different, and I personally think it's the most challenging event on the track," said Baldauf, who has experience in every race except the 10,000 meters. "There's that extra factor of not only keeping up the pace but dealing with those jumps. When you crash, you crash hard, but I like it because I think it helps me break up a long-distance race by attacking one hurdle at a time."
Though he's technically a senior, Baldauf has the option to exercise an extra year of eligibility and return next season. He entertained the possibility, however, acceptance into law school at the University of South Dakota has presented an opportunity Baldauf said is too good to pass on.
So this week will be Baldauf's last sporting "Dakota Wesleyan" across his chest, but he hopes to run a few more quality races donning blue and white.
"It's meant a lot to go out on a positive note, just having that feeling that I kind of gave it everything I had this summer and then executed this year has definitely made it special," Baldauf said. "I'm sure it'll hit me once I step off the track one last time, but I'm excited to get after it at nationals. Hopefully, things go well and I can finish it right by being an All-American, but if not, I can't complain too much with the year we've had."
DWU women's throwers well-represented
Three fellow Tigers — Lila Gronseth, Darby Deffenbaugh and Abbigail Magnuson — will be joining Baldauf at the NAIA outdoor track and field championships, all having achieved the national 'B' standard in their respective throwing events on the women's side.
Gronseth, like Baldauf, qualified for the indoor national meet earlier this year and will be representing the Tigers in multiple events. The sophomore and Sargeant, Minnesota, native recorded 'B' standard-eclipsing marks in the shot put, discus and hammer throw this spring. Gronseth ranks fourth all-time at DWU in both the discus and hammer, with season-best heaves of 42.81 meters and 49.06 meters, respectively. In the shot put, she owns a season-best throw of 13.24 meters,
Deffenbaugh and Magnuson are both making their NAIA national championship debuts
Yet another multi-event qualifier, Deffenbaugh, a junior who hails from Kimball, is set to compete in the hammer throw and discus in her debut at the NAIA national championships. Her season-best hammer throw mark of 50.10 meters ranks third all-time at DWU, while her season-best throw in the discus is sixth all-time for the Tigers at 42.69 meters.
Rounding out the Tigers' qualifiers, Magnuson, a sophomore from Buxton, North Dakota, will compete in the shot put. With a season-best toss of 13.36 meters, Magnuson ranks third all-time at DWU.
The championships are set for May 24-26 in Marion, Ind. Gronseth and Deffenbaugh will open with the hammer throw on Wednesday, followed by Gronseth and Magnuson competing in the shot put on Thursday and Gronseth and Deffenbaugh closing with the discus on Friday.