Consistency has been a hallmark of coach Renee Zellner's track and field teams at Harper College.
And her Hawks teams aren't afraid to aim high, either.
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"We are going to try our hardest to take that No. 1 spot," said Zellner of the test awaiting Harper on Thursday through Saturday in the NJCAA nationals at Howard Community College in Columbia, Md.
Having the home track could be a positive for the top-ranked Dragons men's team. Harper is ranked second nationally and is the defending champ, having won five of the last six national titles.
"Howard is a very efficient team," said Zellner, who is stressing to her men's team that while rankings might be fun for fans to debate, "On (race) day, anything can change. This is going to be a tough meet."
Zellner says Howard may have better depth, which means top finishes will be key for Harper.
One Harper athlete who figures to get there is Troy Cunningham (Conant). After winning individual and team cross country championships in the fall, Cunningham is looking to add back-to-back golds at 800 meters.
Cunningham also has a chance to win three individual national championship and three team titles during his two-year run at Harper. Cunningham will also compete in the 1,500 run.
"We hope he will do it again," Zellner said. "He's going to have to perform the same way as last year."
Cunningham isn't the only Harper competitor with individual national title hopes. Jalen Griffin is looking to cross the finish line first in both the 100 and 200 meters.
One event where Harper could make up points on Howard is the 400 meters. Andre Barnes (Prospect) is Division I's top-ranked 400 runner, and joining him with point-scoring potential is Tom Rohn.
Another pair of Hawks going to Maryland are distance standouts Colin Webber and Nick Modlin. Modlin is ranked No. 1 and 2 in the 10k and 5k, respectively. Zellner likes the intelligence that her top two distance runners display.
"They run really wise," she said. "They have done a good job."
It wouldn't be a Zellner team without some strong throwers. And indeed the Hawks have point-scoring chances in the hammer, along with an outside chance in the shot put. Harper could have title contenders in Dan Lowry and Luciano Laterza and hopes to place three throwers in finals.
Another event that will be watched intensely by both coaches and spectators is the pole vault. Harper's Jake Zameric is ranked No. 2 nationally in the event.
As in years past, the title could hinge on the relays. Both the Hawks and Dragons are nationally ranked in the 4x4 and 4x1.
"It's going to come down to passes," Zellner said.
• The Harper women's team enters nationals ranked No. 7 in the NJCAA Divsion III track and field poll.
The Hawks will rely on three runners who will be competing in two or more events.
Stephanie Chaires may have the toughest assignment. She will compete in the 4x4 and 4x8 relays along with the 5000 and 1500. Kaila Privatsky will also race the 1,500, and perhaps the 5,000 too. Zellner characterized both as hard workers.
The most talented in Zellner's group of distance runners may be North Central College transfer Jordan Wagner (Schaumburg). Wagner is ranked No. 1 in the 800 and will also run three relays.