Dark Horse Szczech hits the national scene

Last weekend, senior Nick Szczech won the 5,000-meter run at the Meyo Invitational with a time of 14:17:52. For now, it is the 10th-fastest time in the country this year. But that isn’t the only thing giving Szczech notoriety.

In his final year, Szczech is having the best indoor season of his career and is one of the dark horse favorites to place at the Big East Indoor Championships next weekend in Akron, Ohio.

“I think Nick is really kind of a new face,” coach Bert Rogers said. “He has been there before and he’s been here for four years, but he really hasn’t put down that really strong performance in Big East yet. But he is running well right now, and that should help him going into the meet.”

Last weekend’s 5,000-meter run wasn’t the only highlight run of Szczech’s indoor season. He also took first in the 3,000-meter run with a time of 8:37:72 in the annual dual meet with Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Jan. 22, a personal record for him at the time.

He broke that record seven days later at the Bill Bergan Invite in Ames, Iowa by running the third-fastest 3,000-meter run in Marquette history, 8:18:37. Combine that with the 5,000-meter he ran this past weekend at Notre Dame, and Szczech has had three weeks to remember.

“I’m definitely running well right now,” Szczech said. “I’m just hoping I can keep this momentum going.”

Szczech’s coaches attribute his success at this point to his experience, his hard work on and off the track, and his style of running.

“Nick is one of the hardest workers on the team,” assistant coach Mike Nelson said. “He basically trains himself, and at times I have to put the reins on him to keep him from doing too much.”

Szczech’s style is one that works especially for him. Some runners are thinkers on the track and have a race plan, but Szczech is exactly the opposite. Though he has a race plan, Szczech is far less cerebral when he is racing than others.

“I think Nick is better if he just gets on the track and goes,” coach Bert Rogers said. “Thinking about it too much will usually just bog him down, and if he’s just out there running, he’s really very good.”

Racing isn’t Szczech’s only role on the team. He is also one of only three senior distance runners on the men’s team, making him one of its most important leaders.

“He is definitely more of a leader by example,” Rogers said. “He is kind of a gym rat. He’s always here, even if it’s just hanging out and studying.”

Szczech is not so sure he’s a “gym rat.”

“I guess he means that I’m really a student of the sport,” Szczech said of Rogers’ characterization. “I try to know everyone’s stats and times and just try to do my best to keep up on things.”

Szczech won’t be competing at the Hoosier Hills Invitational on Saturday at Bloomington, Ind., but he will bring his talents to Akron for the Big East Indoor Championships, where he’s currently projected to be ranked first entering the 5,000-meter run, according to directathletics.com.

And if he does well, he could work his way into qualifying for nationals. But he isn’t too concerned with that possibility.

“Making nationals would really be more of a cool bonus rather than an actual goal of mine,” Szczech said. “Kind of like icing on the cake for me. But I’m really not worried about it. I’m mostly concentrating on Big East at this point.”