TERRE HAUTE —
Big John is in the big show for the second straight year.
This time, Terre Haute’s own John Mascari, an Indiana State sophomore, has his sights on an All-American finish Saturday on the course he grew up racing as a prep standout at Terre Haute North.
Mascari was 60th in the NCAA championships as a freshman at Louisville, and after last week’s Great Lakes Region victory, he is confident he can crack the top 40 at LaVern Gibson Championship Course in front of hometown fans.
Mascari’s been re-writing records throughout the fall after a spring track season that left him wanting more.
Mascari showed the potential to be a force in the 10,000 meters on the track, but he missed out on the NCAA championships after a rough regional.
“Right after regionals for track, took about two days off and was really ready to start my summer training,” Mascari said. “It’s been 25 weeks straight since I’ve taken a day off. [The track disappointment] kept me motivated. Looking back at my log book, I can see all the miles I’ve done. It’s all motivation to keep going Saturday.”
Mascari has been on a mission every race this season. He dominated the field in the Indiana Intercollegiates at Bloomington, racing against some former teammates. He spent his true freshman year at IU as a redshirt.
Then he set the 8K school record at the Pre-Nationals, finishing 11th among some of the nation’s top talent with a school-record time of 23:41.8. Mascari ran to the Missouri Valley Conference title for the second time in as many years and then set a course record and new ISU 10K record to win the Great Lakes meet last week in a time of 30:05.
“Pre-Nationals was just a huge confidence boost. I was able to stay with the lead pack as long as I could, I was able to break my own school record,” said Mascari, who carried that momentum into the next month of racing. “I was able to re-write the record book in the 10K at regionals, especially winning it.”
Coach John McNichols has not been the least bit surprised by his young runner.
“I was maybe a little cautious with him [last season],” McNichols said. “That’s one thing we changed this year. We said ‘go with the lead pack.’ He needs to run up there and that’s treated him well. The only one he faltered was Notre Dame, he got a side stitch bad and had to drop back and get himself under control. Then he ran right back up and got 16th after falling back to 30th. For him, that’s the most comfortable place to be.”
Mascari outdueled Purdue’s Matt McClintock to win the regional. They could potentially work together to be among the contenders for a national title.
“We talked after the regional meet,” Mascari said. “This year, the goal is we’re going to latch onto each other, maybe each work every other kilometer. He’s a tough nut, he’ll be in an All-American spot so if we can work together, we can do something good.”
In addition to battling the United States’ best amateur runners, Mascari will have to be able to handle soggy conditions at the course.
“This year, I guess I haven’t really ran in sloppy conditions. This could play a little factor. Everyone’s going to have to run in the same stuff. Just have to be tough about it,” Mascari said after a workout at Deming Park earlier this week.
McNichols has enjoyed pushing Mascari through harder workouts this season.
“All the guys stepped up the workload, he’s just responded really well to it. All the other guys did too. ... ,” McNichols said. “The training is almost the same except his mileage was definitely higher through the summer and the early part of the season. As a result of that and building on last year, each of his workouts has been faster. It was a 4:55- 5-flat pace for most of his training last year, and we’re at 4:45 or faster now. A lot of it’s confidence too.”
NCAA Division I cross country team rankings
4. Florida State
7. Iowa State
11. New Mexico
14. Michigan State
18. William and Mary
19. San Francisco
22. Penn State
23. Notre Dame
26. West Virginia
1. Northern Arizona (6)
2. Oklahoma State (4)
3. Colorado (2)
6. New Mexico
16. Eastern Kentucky
19. Notre Dame
24. Air Force
25 (tie). N.C. State
27. Colorado State
28. North Carolina