UW-Eau Claire junior track athlete Thurgood Dennis is no stranger to accolades. Now, he can add National Athlete of the Year to his already impressive list.
In record breaking fashion, the speedster collected his fifth and sixth career national championships on March 15 at the NCAA Division III meet in Lincoln, Neb., set two national records, and was named the 2014 NCAA Division III National Indoor Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
The heralded sprinter hailing from Green Bay Notre Dame High School broke the Division III’s all-time 60-meter dash record by winning his second consecutive title in the event. His time of 6.68 seconds gave him the record by .01 seconds.
Then in the 200-meter dash, Dennis bolted off the line to another Division III record of 21.27 seconds, again, .01 better than the previous mark.
But as always, the humble Dennis was quick to credit to his teammates and coaches, something that is a common trait for the 21-year-old better known around campus as “Goodie.”
“The national record is nice, but to me, the most important things are getting those team points,” Dennis said. “If the Blugolds ain’t eating, then I’m not either.”
He also anchored his 4×400-meter relay team of Jimmy Paske, Cody Prince and Will LaJeunesse to a fifth-place finish, helping the Blugold men finish second to UW-La Crosse. It is the third straight indoor season Eau Claire has brought home a team trophy. In other words, ever since Dennis has been a part of the program.
“It was very exciting to achieve a second place trophy, especially because I don’t think we performed all the way to our potential as a team,” Dennis said. “It was an outstanding experience.”
Dennis’ team-orientated persona first caught Director of Athletics Scott Kilgallon’s eye last spring, when he traveled to the national track championships at UW-La Crosse. Kilgallon said despite Dennis’ success, he is still the first one to praise his teammates and he has helped elevate their level of competition.
“He’s a regular guy, working out with his teammates and not thinking he’s better than anyone else and is a great teammate,” Kilgallon said.
The recent success of the track and field program, led by Dennis, has brought the national spot light on to the university even further Kilgallon said.
And teammates have built off the success of Dennis.
On the men’s side, five other individuals joined Dennis and the relay members as All-Americans.
Junior Brandon Zarnoth finished second in the heptathlon with a two-day total of 5,259 points. Zarnoth also earned another recognition at the nationals banquet Friday night, as he was named the Midwest Region Field Athlete of the Year to make it an Eau Claire sweep of the award as Dennis won the region’s Track Athlete of the Year.
Fellow heptathlete Greg Peterson finished fifth in the event with 5,026 points.
Junior Roger Steen took home All-American honors for the second year in a row with a throw of 17.49 meters, and senior Matt Scott also brought home his second All-American honor in the mile as he finished fourth with a time of 4:10.38. Price also had an All-American finish in the 400-meter as he placed eighth.
On the women’s side, junior Carly Fehler made a record of her own by becoming the university’s all-time fastest woman in the both the 60-meter dash and 200-meter dash. In the 200, she came in fourth-place for an All-American finish and time of 24.76 seconds, besting previous record holder Jordanne Greenup’s time from two years ago. She ran a 7.77-second race in the 60, but did not reach finals.
The women’s 4×400-meter relay team joined the men as All-Americans, as a sixth-place finish from Brooke Patterson, Steph Rouse, Megan Mulligan and Jess Rupnow earned the quartet a podium spot.
The track teams will now get a month off before tackling the outdoor season, which starts April 5 at UW-La Crosse.