BRIDGEWATER, Va. – Entering the 2016-17 school year, Bridgewater College student-athletes had won four national titles in a sports history spanning more than 100 years.
Isaac Rodgers was first to claim a national title when he won the triple jump at the 1985 NCAA National Indoors Championship meet.
Cary Chenoweth put a fledgling equestrian program in the national spotlight when she won in Intermediate Over Fences at the 2002 IHSA Championship event.
Courtney Hartman claimed the title of best all-around athlete when she won the heptathlon at the 2010 NCAA National Outdoors Championship meet.
The equestrian program added its second national title when Taylor Rose placed first in Open on the Flat at the 2013 IHSA event.
This past season, three student-athletes combined to more than double the previous championship total, bringing five national titles back to campus.
Amber Celen claimed titles with first-place efforts in the 60 and the 200 at the NCAA Indoors Championship and then added a win in the 100 meters at the Outdoors championship. Christina Herbert won the individual crown at the 2017 NCAA Division III Golf Championship and Zellie Wothers won the equestrian program's third national title, riding to a first place finish in Intermediate on the Flat at the IHSA Championships.
Amber Celen, Track & Field
Amber Celen came to Bridgewater College as a fast, but unpolished sprinter. With one season still remaining, the Eagles' standout will leave as one of the fastest females in Division III history.
Celen burst on to the national scene as a sophomore when she grabbed All-American honors in three events – the indoor 200 and the outdoor 200 and 100.
The Eagles' sprinter took her game to a new level as a junior by winning three national championships.
"When I arrived at Bridgewater as a freshman, I had minimal training," Celen said. "The training, the coaching I have received, along with the work I have put in has helped me take more than two seconds off my time in the 200."
Celen's focus for her breakout junior season can be traced to the previous season and the 200 meters at the indoor championship. Celen was on her way to a possible championship when she lost her footing in the latter stages of the race and finished eighth.
"Falling in the 200 as a sophomore most definitely was a motivating factor this past season," Celen said. "From training, weightlifting, eating right – I did everything I was supposed to do."
That focus paid off at the national indoors when Celen claimed a pair of titles. "I trained hard for the 200. That was the event we prepared for the most."
Celen's time of 7.54 in the 60 was fourth-fastest in NCAA Division III history and her 24.15 clocking in the 200 was the fastest ever indoors in Division III. Her efforts were rewarded when she was named the National Athlete of the Year for the indoor season.
Celen claimed her third national title with a photo-finish in the 100 at the outdoor championships. Her time of 11.63 seconds set a new national meet record. Celen also placed second in the 200 with a time of 23.87 seconds. "I was really excited to break the 24-second mark in the 200," said Celen.
With one season of competition remaining at Bridgewater, Celen has her sights set on a bigger goal.
"I'm hoping to qualify for the Olympic trials in the 200," she said. "It's a little bit of a reach, but I think I have a chance."
Christian Herbert, Golf
Christina Herbert headed to Texas for the Division III National Golf Championships full of confidence.
As a sophomore, Herbert tied for 31st at Bay Oaks Country Club in Houston. As a junior, she entered the tournament, being played on the same Bay Oaks course, as the one of the players to watch.
"Playing in the national tournament as a sophomore and coming back to the same course as a junior was a big plus," Herbert said. "I was very nervous my sophomore year. It's a really big tournament and the first time, you really don't know what to expect. I was definitely more relaxed the second time."
Herbert shot a 74 in the opening round and was sixth overall, putting her on solid footing for the rest of the tournament.
Coach (John) Rogers and I talked about how the national tournament is more of a marathon," Herbert said. "You want to be within a couple shots of par in the first round and keep yourself in the hunt. That's what I was able to do."
A 69 on the second day of competition shot Herbert to the top of the leaderboard and a 76 in the third round had her tied for the lead with 18 holes remaining.
However, a tough stretch of holes in the final round on her final nine had Herbert believing she had lost her chance of winning a national title.
"I really didn't think I was in it, but that's where your mental preparation comes into play," Herbert said. "I still had four or five holes left to play. I just stuck to my routine with each shot. I try not to get caught up in the scoring, I just tried to focus and hit a quality shot each time."
When Herbert finished her round, she got a big surprise when Coach Rogers told her she was the leader in the clubhouse. "At first, I thought he was kidding, but then I realized he was serious. I probably waited 15 or 20 minutes for the final golfers to finish, but it seemed like it took forever. When I realized I had won, it was a huge relief. It's a long four or five days. All the stress, all the pressure was finally over."
The summer serves as a time for Herbert to decompress after a grueling college season. "I don't think I could totally get away from golf if I tried, but this summer is going to be a time where I play golf with my friends and just have fun."
When the time is right, Herbert will start thinking about her senior season. "I haven't set my goals for next year, but I'm sure qualifying for the national tournament to defend the title will be on the list."
Zellie Wothers, Equestrian
Despite being a relatively new sport, the equestrian program has experienced a great deal of success since its first season in 2000.
Zellie Wothers captured the third IHSA title in the program's young history with her first-place ride in Intermediate on the Flat at the national show.
Just getting to the national show was a tough task for the Eagles' rider. Riders must qualify for the national show by competing in the Zones where only the top two riders in each class advance to the national level.
"Competing at Zones was definitely the most stressful," said Wothers. "I really wanted to go to nationals so I prepared really hard for the Zones."
Wothers won the Zones competition hosted by St. Andrews University to advance to the IHSA Nationals. " Once I qualified, I was going to be happy regardless of what happened at the national show," Wothers said.
After watching the horses at the national show for a couple of day, Wothers was thrown a proverbial curve ball when it was time for her to compete. "The horse I drew to ride was a handful," Wothers explained. "I was pulled out of the ring and put on a different horse. That was my first re-ride in college. I get along well with most horses so it was OK."
Once her ride was complete, Wothers was confident she had done well. "Equestrian is a subjective sport. There were 16 horses and riders competing. I felt like I worked the ring well so the judges could see me as much as possible. Every rider in the ring was talented. I felt like I had a good ride, but you never really know for sure."
The national title has helped Wothers focus on the goal for her senior season at Bridgewater. "I'll move up to the Open class and in Open they have the Cacchione Cup. The best open riders from every region compete for the Cup at the national show and I'd like to be one of those riders."