TERRE HAUTE —
With three of the top five finishers in the Indiana Intercollegiates on Friday at LaVern Gibson, the Indiana State men’s team showed some promise.
With three Terre Haute natives running among the top seven through two races so far, Sycamores’ coach John McNichols will rely heavily on home-grown talent this season.
John Mascari, who redshirted as a freshman at Indiana University, gave his sophomore season a jolt with a victory in his first collegiate varsity race on the same course he raced on at Terre Haute North, where was teammates with sophomore Sycamore Milton Brinza. The duo spent time racing against Terre Haute South’s Taylor Head, who is a redshirt freshman that’s been ISU’s fourth runner so far this season.
“It feels good to have everybody back. We’ve all bonded over the years. It’s good to have everybody together as one team,” Brinza said of the local flavor on the Sycamores.
When Mascari left IU, he gave up a near definite chance to compete in the NCAA Championships for a an opportunity to take the Sycamores to the field for the first time as a team.
As he did when discussing his transfer months ago, Mascari expressed his desire for a trip to nationals without prompting in an interview prior to the Indiana Intercollegiate races.
“This is only the beginning. If we can get five guys under 25 [minutes for an 8K], I think we can get a shot at nationals,” said Mascari, who simply decided he would prefer the comforts of his hometown for the next four years.
“I think I was meant to be here, stay here. I couldn’t ask for better teammates. I’ve just got a better mind set here and I’m happy here. I’m ready to put all that behind me, all the injuries and everything and just compete for the team.”
No complaints from ISU coach John McNichols.
“[Expectations] were high. I watched him run all through high school. Very talented kid, but a very hard worker on top of that. And a good racer. He has all the ingredients,” McNichols said.
Mascari is in top form early in the season, and he and seniors Al Escalera and Dustin Betz will lead the Sycamores into the prestigious Notre Dame Invitational next weekend in South Bend.
Escalera and Mascari led much of the 8,000 meter race on Friday at LaVern Gibson, with Mascari running a personal best 24 minutes, 42.4 seconds. EScalera was second in 24:54, while Betz was fifth ni 25:00.2. Betz won the season-opening race at Bradley as the Sycamores took the team title in that race. The Sycamores finished behind IU and Butler for third at the Intercollegiates.
While McNichols likes the positive attitude Mascari brings to the team, the Sycamores will need to tighten their pack to have a shot at an NCAA berth.
“Well, it’s a long ways. We’ve got a lot of things to do. Obviously we’d have to show more depth than we did [Friday] to have a chance. But we definitely have three frontrunner types that can get up there and mix it up,” McNichols said. “Everything we do now is tough. We go to Notre Dame, that’s one of the toughest invitationals in the country. We go to Pre-Nationals; we’ve hosted that enough to know what that’s all about. Then we have our conference meet. Southern Illinois looks as good as they’ve ever been. Then we go to Wisconsin for the Great Lakes Regional.”
The next few races will be huge for ISU’s frontrunners, but it’s bringing up the fourth and fifth runners that can make the team a potential threat when the time comes to trek to Madison, Wis.
ISU showed stronger depth in its season-opening victory at Bradley as the gap between the winner, Betz, and ISU’s No. 5 runner Tristan Selby was only 32 seconds.
Head was also ISU’s No. 4 finisher that day. The South grad had a strong summer and he’s hoping he can play a role in the Sycamores’ success.
And he’s pretty excited to have Mascari and Brinza, former prep rivals, around to train and compete with.
“During high school our schools were rivals but we always talked in high school. So coming together and getting all these guys close from around the Wabash Valley. I really like that, keeping the talent at home,” Head said.
Head hopes to help bring the back of the Sycamores’ pack in closer to the frontrunners.
“Last year I knew was going to be a big change because the mileage was a big bump so I was just trying to adapt to the new training. This year, I’m just trying to help the team in as many ways that I can and score low,” Head said.
While Head spent his freshman year adjusting to the training of a college distance runner, Brinza felt he was ready to compete right away.
“Freshman year it was fun. Coach gave me the opportunity, after I had some pretty good preseason workouts, he gave me the opportunity to run varsity. I went ahead and put the singlet on and and raced varsity. I don’t regret any of it, it was a ton of fun. I had a great time and now I know I have some good experience,” Brinza said.
Several other Wabash Valley runners are on the roster, including Shakamak’s Drew Gambill and junior varsity runners Andrew Kump and Nathan Kump of West Vigo and Dylan Bertsch of Terre Haute North.
While those young harriers have a chance to develop in the next few years, Mascari is looking like he’s ready to become an elite runner within the region.
While at IU, Mascari suffered a stress fracture in his shin that caused him to miss 12 weeks of running. He made sure he had a productive summer.
“On April 23, I started my summer training. I increased mile every week, hit 100 miles six times. I’m feeling pretty fit, best shape I’ve ever been in,” Mascari said.
While the local products are going to be critical in ISU’s season, Mascari said the Sycamores are relying on the senior leadership.
“They’ve been awesome training partners,” Mascari said. “Every workout we’re together working together. I just want them to realize we can make it. It’s possible. I realize at regionals there’s good teams with IU, Wisconsin, Michigan, Notre Dame. I think we can surprise a lot of teams and see what happens.”