The high school junior from Indiana ran 16:18 for 5,000 meters.
(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Ashley Erba of Winona Lakes, Ind., highlighted the first day of the 2012 New Balance Nationals Outdoor meet by setting a meet record in the Girls Championship 5,000m, stopping the clock at 16:18.21. Less than a half hour later, Jake Leingang of Bismarck, N.D., came up just short in his own attempt at a meet record, winning the Boys Championship 5,000m in 14:27.16. Erba and Leingang’s 5000m races were just two of the many excellent performances recorded on Thursday at America’s high school track and field championships.
Coming into today’s race, Erba, a junior at Warsaw Community High School, had her eyes set on achieving a personal best in the 5,000m. But only briefly did she consider her chances at setting a new meet record; Ashley Brasovan’s 16:18.91 mark seemed far off on the horizon for Erba, who during the fall cross country season was stuck above 18:00 for 5K.
“I wouldn’t say I expected it,” she said post-race. “I set my goals in tiers. First, running a good race, then I wanted to be under 16:30 or 17 minutes. Then I wanted to win, and if I was near the record, why not? But I wasn’t coming in saying my goal was just to beat the meet record.”
That all changed 3000 meters into tonight’s race. With defending champion Wesley Frazier on her heels, the two passed 3K in 9:53.
“I wanted to go out smooth and under control,” detailed Erba. “But after the first mile, or mile and a half, I wanted to start moving.”
From that point on, Erba extend her lead meter by meter, focusing on her form and the support her father and coach were giving from the stands.
“My dad and coach were on the back corner [of the track] and they just kept yelling out ‘stay smooth, stay relaxed,'” she said. “That helped.”
The Gatorade State Runner of the Year for Indiana kept picking her pace up, edging closer and closer to Brasovan’s record. With 400m to go, Erba was giving it her all to get to the finish with time to spare. That she did, crossing in 16:18.21, seven-tenths of a second up on Brasovan’s 2008 mark, and 25 seconds ahead of runner-up Danielle Anderson (16:43.65). Frazier wound up third in 16:51.04.
“I feel really good about how far I’ve come,” said Erba, who was making her first appearance at a national championship meet. Traveling fifteen hours and a whopping 480 miles from home –by car, no less– Erba said it was well worth it.
“It feels pretty darn good,” said the beaming champion. “I’m looking to be back next year.”
Less than thirty minutes later, Leingang toed the starting line for the Boys’ 5000m having traveled a long way from his home in Bismarck. After three long plane rides, the state champion in cross country began the race simply trying to earn his own national championship title.
Two miles (3,200m) into the race, it was clear that Leingang would win the title he sought. But one question remained: could he break Edward Cheserek’s 5000m meet record of 14:25.74, set last year?
“Towards the end, it started getting rough. I put in as much as I had left,” Leingang noted. “That was the goal.”
With 800 meters to go, Leingang had to run 2:15 to get the record. As he heard the announcer list the needed split, Leingang picked it up again. With 200 meters remaining, the junior had just 32-seconds before the record would pass. That’s when the tank ran all but empty.
Despite sprinting through the finish in full stride, Leingang missed the record by less than two seconds. His final time would be 14:27.16, the second fastest mark recorded in meet history.
“That was motivation pushing me, but I couldn’t go any faster,” he said, still happy with the win. When asked what it meant to come so close to Cheserek’s mark, Leingang said it was an honor.
“It definitely means a lot, knowing how good he is. He gives me more motivation to be better.”
Will the two meet in the future, possibly at next year’s New Balance Nationals? After all, both are juniors and have a season of prep running ahead of them.
“I don’t know, we’ll see what happens,” said Leingang.
Middle and long distance action continues tomorrow, with the two-mile and 4x800m relay scheduled.