And it is what kept Ohio Northern’s Matt Molinaro, a freshman at the time, from qualifying for the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championship meet last year. Molinaro’s fastest 800-meter time last winter was 1:53.75, just .11 seconds behind the 15th-fastest runner, Kevin Desmond (University of Southern Maine). The top 15 Division III runners in the nation qualify to race at the national championship meet, and Molinaro missed the cut by one place.
“It was really heartbreaking,” Molinaro said. “I worked really hard during track season last year, and coming that close- being one spot out- was just really heartbreaking.”
Fortunately for Molinaro, he would have three more years to try to make it back to the national stage. And with the thought of missing last year’s cut fresh in his mind, he would have no problem finding motivation this past offseason.
“That was on my mind all the time,” Molinaro said. “I was really excited for this year, because I knew I trained hard over the summer.”
This winter, Molinaro qualified for the national meet, making the cut comfortably with the seventh-fastest 800-meter time in the country (1:52.64). Just 1.75 seconds separate Molinaro from the fastest runner (based on preliminary times).
Along with Molinaro, the women’s indoor track team will be sending two runners to compete at the national meet this weekend in Grinnell, Iowa. Junior Allison Gast will compete in the 60-meter hurdles, and sophomore Emily Richards will run the 800 for the Polar Bears.
Richards (right) ran the 800 at nationals last year, as a freshman. While she finished 16th out of 17 runners last March, she believes that her experience last year will help her this time around.
“Last year was definitely a learning experience,” Richards said. “I learned a lot in terms of race strategy. You are in a really tight pack where everyone runs close to the same time, so you are more likely to get boxed in.”
“I panicked really early on in lap one or two, and got stuck. [This year] I can go into it knowing that it will be tight and that I know not to panic.”
Richards holds the fastest preliminary time in the country heading into Friday’s race. Meanwhile, this will be Gast’s first appearance at the NCAA Championship meet, and she comes into Friday ranked 17th in the nation in the 60-meter dash.
When asked, Molinaro says that he doesn’t plan to change much on Friday when it comes to his racing strategy.
“Usually, I’m ‘sitting and kicking’ in my races,” Molinaro said, referring to how he kicks it into a higher gear towards the end of races. “I’m definitely going to try to stick to the front of the group and be in the top two or three for the whole race, and kick hard [at the end].”
On Friday, Gast (left) will race at 2:25 p.m. (CST), while Molinaro will run at 4:05 p.m. (CST) and Richards will go at 4:20 p.m. (CST). Runners who finish in the top eight of their respective race will compete on Saturday in the finals, and they will also earn All-American honors.
While Molinaro says that he is aiming to earn All-American honors, he also understands that this meet is about much more than himself.
“Hopefully I can get All-American [honors] for Northern,” Molinaro said. “I love this school, and being able to represent ONU on a national level means the world to me.”