Two steeplechase racers have become the first in outdoor track and field’s four-year history to qualify for an NCAA competition.
But neither of the runners ever competed in the event before this year.
Senior Carter Day and graduate student Matthew Lange will both compete at the NCAA East Preliminary Competition in Tampa, Fla. later this month as the first in program history to score a spot.
“To see all these come together right now just, for me, has been very rewarding,” head coach Terry Weir said. “It’s fun, it’s a lot of why we coach and get into this, for these kinds of moments.”
Day and Lange will represent GW as the only Atlantic 10 school with two runners qualified for distance events on the men’s side.
“It’s big, you want your teammate there,” Weir said. “You want to have another guy, especially going for the first time and having your teammate there with you going through this exciting time.”
Day started running in the 3,000-meter steeplechase race this season because he wanted to try something new in his final year as a Colonial.
But what started as an “impulse decision” by Day became his ticket to the national preliminary competition, after capturing gold at the A-10 Track and Field Championship with a 8:58.40 split earlier this month. He enters the competition in 32nd place.
“I went into it thinking it’s going to be something fun and new to do, and it turns out I just happened to be good at it,” Day said. “I guess it’s just nice that it worked out that way.”
For coach and runner alike, Day’s success at the steeplechase has been an unexpected surprise.
“Getting here and going to the first round of nationals, I wasn’t expecting that at all, I’m not too sure he was expecting it,” Weir said. “Deep down we know he’s fit and he’s talented and he really could do this, but not the first time, not the first year out doing it, so we’re thrilled.”
Day, who is a member of the program’s first recruiting class, said his trip to the national competition in his final program year is the product of both his training and continued patience with himself throughout his career.
“My goal is just to go have personally my best race of the season there,” Day said. “If that gets me through, it gets me through. If not, then I’ve still bested myself and that’s really all that counts.”
In addition to holding the program record for the 3,000-meter steeplechase, Day currently holds the program record in the 5,000-meter race. His gold in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the A-10 Championship inked his name in the record books as the first runner in program history to win an event at the outdoor track and field championships. Day also captured gold in the 5,000-meter race at the meet.
Despite coming to GW with hurdling experience, Day had a tough start at the event. At the Colonial Relays in April, Day did not finish his first-ever steeplechase race after tweaking his foot clearing one of the barriers.
But one week later, Day set a then-program record in the event, besting Lange’s previous record and finishing second in the field.
Lange secured his spot for the NCAA preliminary race in the 11th hour, running a 9:00.11 at the IC4A Championships Saturday, good for fourth place at the meet and a personal record by seven seconds. The last day to qualify for the preliminary race was Sunday, and entering the national meet, Lange sits in 38th place in the field of 48.
“I knew that all season I was in good shape and good enough to do it, it just hadn’t come together,” Lange said. “It was really about just putting it all out there, could be the last one, so there’s no reason to save anything.”
Weir said he was looking for the graduate student to also qualify for the NCAA meet at the A-10 Championship, but an off race for Lange meant he had just one more chance to qualify during his race at the IC4A Championships.
“We knew what his fitness level was and he could do it, he just had to execute it,” Weir said. “And he did, so we’re extremely happy that it came through and on the very last possible time to do it, he did it, so that was great.”
As a Colonial, Lange is part of the program record-setting 4×1600 meter relay team and tops the all-time performance list for the 10K race in cross country with a time of 31:13.4.
For Lange, steeplechasing had always been around him. At Furman as an undergradute, his coach Robert Gary was a two-time Olympian in the steeplechase, and his roommate was a two-time All-American runner in the event, he said.
“I was surrounded by really good steeplers,” Lange said. “And I’d always been good at running the 3,000-meter race indoors, so I knew that distance was my forte, so I figured if I could just get down some hurdling work I might be decent at the event. And it worked out pretty well.”
The top 12 of the 48 competitors in each event will qualify for the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore. in June. Weir said he wants his runners to enjoy the race but to fight and take a swipe at one of the top-12 spots.
“This is the best in the country they’re going to race with, and I’m looking forward to them to go mix it up with the best and see what they can do,” Weir said.