Leslie Hardesty named new head coach

Women’s track and field competes at the Truman Twilight Meet. The Bulldogs won 21 events, April 22, 2021. Photo from TMN archives

The Truman State University men’s and women’s track and field teams opened their indoor seasons with successful showings at the Frigid Bee Invite and Dutch Holiday Preview during December. Senior thrower Jacob Morris took home gold in the weight throw at both meets, and the Bulldogs also took gold in the women’s 4×400 relays at both meets. 

This year marks the first entire season for head coach Leslie Hardesty after she took over as interim head coach last year following the sudden death of head coach Tim Schwegler last April. 

Hardesty said the death was tough for everyone on the team because it happened very quickly. 

“I went into ‘mama bear’ mode and made sure all of our athletes were okay and had the outlets necessary to deal with the mixture of emotions swirling around them,” Hardesty said. “It was important to me that we finish the season for Tim.”

Senior hurdler Kirsten Poole said the grieving process was a shock to her and the team. She said it felt like they lost two coaches because Schwegler’s wife, Nancy, was a volunteer assistant with the team and left after Schwegler died. 

Morris said the team bonded around their shared loss and that he felt extra motivation to finish the season last year in tribute to coach Schwegler. 

After last season, Hardesty said it helped her to have the summer break to prepare and heal for the next season. 

Hardesty, an assistant track and field coach for 17 years at Truman, said the transition to head coach had been made easier because she was already here. 

“The athletes already knew me and my coaching style,” Hardesty said. “It was just a matter of adding a few more responsibilities to my plate and coaching a larger number of events.”

Morris agreed and said he believed the team has grown closer because they are all working out and practicing together. In the past, they were split into event groups, so now he feels that the team is more unified. 

Poole said the transition had been a bit rocky with Hardesty taking over new events, but said it was easier for the athletes to get used to Hardesty’s coaching since she had already been at Truman,. Poole said she knows Hardesty would go to bat for all her athletes. 

After placing first in the weight throws at the team’s first two meets during December, Morris was named GLVC field athlete of the week. Last season, Morris placed first in the discus throw at the GLVC outdoor championships and fourth at the NCAA Div. II championships. 

Morris said he has his goals set high this season on the heels of that success. 

“I want to make nationals for both indoor and outdoor in the weight throw,” Morris said. “I want to earn a top-five finish at nationals, and I would like to compete for a national championship in the discus.”

Morris again took gold in the weight throw in the team’s first meet after the holiday break at Northwest Missouri State University Jan. 21. 

Poole took home fourth in the 400-meter hurdles last season at the GLVC outdoor championships. Her goal is to win that event this outdoor season, but an injury may keep her from doing so.

“I tore my labrum and hip flexor in my right hip,” Poole said. “Usually, this would be a career-ending injury, but I am doing everything possible to finish my last season. I have been dealing with the pain for years, so I think I can make it a few more months.”

Poole has started the season strong, finishing second and fourth, respectively in the 60-meter hurdles at the team’s first two meets. 

Hardesty said her objective this season is to have each athlete set and work to achieve small goals. She said she wants as many athletes as possible at the GLVC indoor and outdoor championship meets this season. 

Hardesty said her long-term goal for the program is to have more athletes in all events. 

One of the new members of the track team contributing to making the program more well-rounded is freshman Hayden Long. Long placed eighth at the first heptathlon meet of the year for Truman. 

Alongside Long, sophomore Jacob Higgs placed seventh at the same meet. 

“This season, I am looking forward to seeing how I can improve my heptathlon/decathlon points throughout the year,” Long said. “Over four years, I want to make a name for multi’s at Truman.”

According to Long, multi’s refers to events composed of many different track and field components, usually throws, jumps and sprints. 

Another team highlight has been the women’s 4×400 meter relay team composed of seniors Sophie Oxendale and Alayna Pipkin, freshman Raina Baker and junior Kendall Dascher. They claimed gold at the team’s first two meets during December and seventh at Northwest Missouri State.  

Hardesty added that it would take time to build the program up, but she is committed to doing so.

“The last few years, we have been heavy on the distance and throws side,” Hardesty said. “We are working hard to increase our numbers in the jumps, hurdles, sprints and multi’s. It won’t be an overnight change, but we’ve prioritized it on the trackside, so we can have a well-rounded program.”