Junior steeplechase racer Suzanne Dannheim smashed her former school record in the outdoor 3000-meter race at the Bison Outdoor Classic Saturday, positioning herself for a spot in the regional championship.
Dannheim, a second-year steeplechase racer, said she hopes to become the first women’s track and field athlete in the program’s five-year history to qualify for the NCAA East Regional. She currently ranks 12th in the NCAA East Region with a time of 10:23.95 and the top 48 times qualify for competition.
“A part of doing really well in the steeplechase this year, and even last year, has to do with me being kind of novice,” Dannheim said. “Steeple is an event that is not like any other distance event.”
Dannheim’s time places No. 12 in a pool of 95 steeplechase racers and is the second-fastest time in the Atlantic 10 behind La Salle junior Grace Mancini.
She also competes in the 100-, 800-, 1500-, 3000- and 5000-meter races but has found the most success in the 3000-meter steeplechase. Dannheim set the school record in her first season competing in the race with a time of 10:38.36 at the IC4A Championship – and her time this weekend broke her own record.
Dannheim said training for the event is similar to her training for the 5000-meter race, but she includes hurdles at different intervals of her practice. She said she wants to ramp up training after receiving her qualifying time to go “full speed ahead” into the back-end of the season.
“I want my workouts to stay really intense,” she said. “I’m trying to beef up on a couple things I noticed I can work on, like technicality with the hurdles and the water pit.”
Senior Lesley Fatica, sophomore Kathryn Nohilly and Dannheim are the sole steeplechase racers on the women’s squad. Dannheim said she draws motivation from her teammates who also compete in the race.
“I’m the only steepler a lot of times at certain meets because the other steeplers aren’t racing and I’m really the only one out there, which is harder,” Dannheim said. “But getting there again and making me feel like I am helping GW put the name out there on the national level – that really motivates me.”
Senior Kelli Stetson said Dannheim can understand and play off the strengths and weaknesses of those running around her. Dannheim is one of her closest training partners, she said.
“She’s definitely gotten better as a runner as well, but even before she’s always been a motivational figure on our team,” Stetson said. “I’ve always been pretty close with her. I’ve always just looked to her for advice.”
The Colonials have seen success in the steeplechase over the past two seasons. Then-senior Carter Day and graduate student Matt Lange made history as the first members of the men’s track and field program to qualify for the NCAA East Preliminary Competition last season.
Lange, who is now an assistant coach for the Colonials, said Dannheim leads by example through her preparation for races. He said Dannheim’s success this season is indicative of the program’s future success.
“Each year, we can just get a little bit better and just keep that going,” he said. “In a few years, we’re really going to be contenders both at the conference and national levels. It’s always nice to get that first one out of the way.”
Lange said Dannheim’s training will help her continue on her upward trajectory if she maintains the same intensity and focus throughout the end of the season.
“If she can just keep saying, ‘Hey there’s more I want to do, more I want to get out of this, or more accomplishments I want to get,’ then she’ll continue to do great,” he said.
The women’s team is back in action at the Virginia Challenge in Charlottesville and the Morgan State Legacy in Baltimore Friday.