Photos by Paul Flessland and special to Bison Illustrated
By Landon Jochim
When I think about the best memories that I had as a Bison, the one that really sticks out in my mind is at Indoor Conference in 2017 at South Dakota State. Track & Field gets a lot of attention at NDSU because of how successful the men’s and women’s teams are. In comparison to some of the other sports like football or basketball, it pales in comparison. I think this story isn’t very well known and hasn’t been told to the Bison masses. Especially because of who it was against and where it took place, it couldn’t get much sweeter.
The men’s team race for the Summit League Indoor Championship was very close the whole weekend. Us and SDSU would trade small victories in different events. One team scoring higher than the other in one event, and then the other team doing better in a different event. It was neck and neck the whole meet. Finally, it was nearing the end of the last day of competition on Saturday when the final events were being tallied up. Sure enough, only ½ of a point separated NDSU and SDSU 184 to 183.5 respectively. There was only one more event to be run, the 4×400 relay. Whoever would place higher between NDSU and SDSU would be The Summit League Champion.
Let that sink in for just a second, everything else up to this point didn’t matter, it all boiled down to one final event on the last day of competition. There was almost a helpless feeling for the rest of the athletes not a part of the 4×400 because they did everything they could as individuals to help the team. Now, in a sport that seems so individual, they needed their teammates to come through and beat the Jackrabbits in one final relay to be crowned the Summit League Champions.
I was fortunate to be one of the four guys in that relay, along with Jacob Richter, JT Butler and Byrne Curl. Before the race, when we realized that it would all boil down to us in the final event, we gathered up and just looked at each other and didn’t really say anything. Nothing needed to be said. What more can you ask for as an athlete? In your arch rival’s house, with the Summit League Championship on the line, winner take all? Those are the moments you dream of. We all knew that it would take everything we had and nothing less. Coach Larson didn’t need to say anything either, he knew that this group of guys were the ones capable of bringing it home. Of course, I remember all the other guys on the team trying to get us jacked up before the race. But there was a sort of calm over us four guys, we didn’t need to be too jacked up, we were ready.
As the official marshaled us to the start line, Jacob Richter would lead off. The Sanford Jackrabbit Athletic Complex was absolutely roaring before the relay had started when they announced this race would decide the champion. The chants for SDSU were very loud, without a doubt the loudest track meet I’ve been at. I could even see some of the SDSU athletes filling Jacob Richter’s ear with words before he ran. I was positioned not far behind him and was looking at the faces of my teammates on the infield, the ones that stick out in my mind were Ryan Enerson and Alex Renner. Ryan seemed to be saying a prayer of some sort before the gun went off, and Renner had his hands on his head just pacing around. That almost made me laugh. I thought to myself, are you guys seriously that worried? Come on, this is the 4×400, the last event, and we are the Bison. When we are in situations like this, NDSU rises to the occasion. We are Champions.
The gun went off. Jacob got out hard, but not as hard as he probably should have. I didn’t worry. Jacob was never one to come out super hard in the 400 but I knew he would finish with the best of them, and he did. He handed off to JT Butler pretty much even maybe even a step ahead of SDSU. JT was the most consistent guy in this group. You knew what you were going to get from him, and him being a 100-200 guy, I knew he would run a strong, conservative leg. SDSU had the lead for most of his leg but JT had a great final charge and handed off to Byrne Curl just behind the Jackrabbits. Byrne was now up, he came out real hard side by side with the SDSU runner, and he remained in that position for the majority of his leg, but he ran very smartly. Letting the SDSU runner do all the work one stride ahead of him and tucked right in behind. Until the last 50 meters when Byrne swung wide and passed him just before handing me the baton.
It was the anchor leg, the glory leg as some say. And since I got the baton just before the SDSU runner my first thought was similar to what happened with Byrne. Will the SDSU runner sit behind me and then make a move at the end? Should I let him have the lead and then pass him at the end? No, something told me right when I got the stick, hammer it. I went out hard. As I rounded the corner and passed all the athletes on the infield and all the fans in the stands the noise was almost deafening. Whichever athlete crossed the line in front of the other would win his team the title. I rounded the corner and was now on the backstretch, I don’t recall much of the rest of the race. But, I do remember seeing Couch St. Clair on the infield screaming.
I came around the final corner with only 80 some meters to go. The crowd was still loud, but not as loud. They knew it was over. This time it was the NDSU fans doing the yelling. I crossed the finish line comfortably ahead of the SDSU runner. We were the champions. I gave Richter a nice hug as we usually did after races together. And looked up to my dad in the stands. All of a sudden I was being mobbed by the rest of the team. On the track was both men’s and women’s teams together, celebrating. Both teams were Summit League Team Champions again. This was without a doubt one of, if not the greatest moment in my time at NDSU. There was no greater feeling of bringing the baton across the line to secure the win. But my leg of the relay was only a tiny portion of what happened that weekend. Every single event, every single place, it all mattered. And if anything before us would have been different, the outcome wouldn’t have been the same. Everyone was a part of that victory and I felt at that moment, on that track, while we were all together, it was our victory.
Jochim, a product of Bismarck Century High School, ran track for the Bison from 2014 until graduation in 2018. He was the Summit League indoor champion in the 400-meter dash in 2015. Jochim still holds a share of the school record in the outdoor 400-meter dash and is the school’s sole record holder for the indoor 400-meter.