VU’s Gafner among Hoosiers chosen as state’s bicentennial relay torchbearers
INDIANAPOLIS – Vincennes University Track & Field and Cross Country Coach Chris Gafner is among 41 people honored by the state of Indiana as Bicentennial Torch Relay torchbearers as part of the state’s celebration of its 200th Anniversary Torch Relay.
Names of more than 2,000 Hoosiers nominated and chosen as torchbearers were announced Wednesday in Indianapolis by Indiana Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb and state tourism officials.
- The complete list of torchbearers, plus their home counties, can be found at:
During the program, state officials making the announcement said the honorees were chosen because they “embody the Indiana traditions of service, civic pride, community involvement and volunteerism.”
Holcomb added, “As we reflect on Indiana’s first two-hundred years, it’s only fitting that we celebrate Hoosiers who serve as inspirations in their communities.”
Torchbearers were nominated by the public and selected by local committees on a county-by-county basis. More than 4,000 torchbearer nominations were received.
The relay is patterned after the Olympic Torch Relay and was designed to connect Hoosiers everywhere during the bicentennial year. The route showcases locations of natural beauty, local interest and historic significance. The Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay will start Sept. 9 in Corydon (Indiana’s first state capital) and culminate with a celebration on Oct. 15 at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. The torch relay will touch each of Indiana’s 92 counties during the 3,200-mile journey across the state.
The Vincennes University Track & Field Teams have consistently been among the NJCAA’s top Div. I programs.
In building itself into an elite junior college program and maintaining that status for more than four decades, VU has recorded consistent top-10 national team finishes and amassed eight NJCAA national team titles, while crowning 27 individual national champions. Along the way, members of the Trailblazer Track & Field Teams have earned 108 NJCAA All-American designations, while about 270 VU competitors have been national placers and three have garnered national records in track & field competition.
Success breeds success and Coach Chris Gafner’s strong Trailblazer recruiting class for the 2015-16 school year indicates that VU’s achievements on the national level will continue into the future.
As for the program’s heritage, many VU athletes have gone on to star at the NCAA level, including NJCAA record-holder Natalia Bartnovskaya who followed up her stellar VU career by becoming the Kansas Jayhawks' school record-holder in both indoor and outdoor pole vault, a two-time NCAA First-Team All-American and a NCAA national champion for Kansas in 2013. Other notable alumni include Ryan Smith who won the NCAA title in the shot put for the University of Indianapolis in 2013, Tatiana Zhuravela who won a discus national title for the University of Indianapolis in 2014 and Pierre Banks’ 110 meter hurdle championship for Wayland Baptist in 2014 .
In the recently-completed 2015 indoor and outdoor seasons, VU athletes landed the three most recent national titles and racked up another handful of All-American honors for the Trailblazer program. Sophomore Kaitlyn Moricz won her second NJCAA pole vault title, while sophomore distance runner TaPring Goatee capped off an award-laden VU career with her first national title, a win in the steeplechase. Also, freshman Trey Kennedy earned his initial NJCAA national crown in the pole vault.
In addition to the three national championships, VU sophomore Robert Murphy finished second in the men’s steeplechase. He nearly matched Goatee with a steeplechase title of his own when he pushed South Plains’ Antibahs Kibiwott Kosgey to a near-photo finish. Murphy’s time was 9:07.91, compared to the winning time of 9:06.79.
Murphy and Goatee and VU Assistant Coach Tim Marsee were in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s inaugural NJCAA Div. I Outdoor Track & Field Regional Athletes and Coaches of the Year for the 2015 season. Murphy was the USTFCCCA Atlantic Region Men’s Track Athlete of the Year, while Goatee grabbed the same award on the women’s side. Marsee was named the USTFCCCA’s Men’s Assistant Coach of the Year. The announcement came just after Murphy was also chosen as USTFCCCA’s NJCAA Men’s National Athlete of the Week early this year. Among the most decorated student-athletes in VU running history, Murphy and Goatee were multiple-time NJCAA and USTFCCCA All-Americans in track & field and cross country. Both also established several VU school records and held multiple No. 1 rankings in various events. Marsee has garnered several NJCAA Assistant Coach of the Year awards over the past several indoor and outdoor track & field seasons.
Murphy landed the same honor during the 2015 indoor season. He was joined as an indoor season honoree by VU’s Isaiah Thomas, who was the USTFCCCA Midwest Region Men’s Field Athlete of the Year.
During the 2014 indoor season, the VU men's and women's programs both finished in the top five at the NJCAA National Championships. Leading the charge were Simon Gyllensten and Moricz. Gyllensten dominated the championship meet's Heptathlon events, scoring a meet record 5,366 points while also winning the open Pole Vault to be selected as the Most Valuable Field Athlete of the Meet. Moricz claimed her first national title in the pole vault.
Beyond VU Track & Field's mission to give each student-athlete opportunities to excel against top four-year programs as well as the top two-year teams throughout the country, Trailblazer student-athletes also receive guidance to complete their VU degree and transfer to successful four-year institutions. The following are a few of the colleges and universities that VU Track & Field and Cross Country student-athletes have gone on to: Indiana, Purdue, Indiana State, Ball State, Louisiana Tech, Western Kentucky, Alabama, Middle Tennessee State, Western Michigan, Tennessee, Florida, Louisville, Louisiana State, Southern Indiana, Illinois, Greenville, Murray State, Arkansas State, Huntington College, Indianapolis, Anderson, Manchester, St. Thomas (FL) and Kentucky.