What the steeple’s going on at Boise State? The question arose at the Stanford Invitational (read about the meet here) when defending women’s NCAA champ Allie Ostrander PRed with a 9:38.57 win and Bronco senior Yusuke Uchikoshi underscored his school’s steeplechase status with an 8:38.32 victory in the men’s race.
That made two collegiate list leads in one night of early season action for coach Corey Ihmels’ squad.
“No, I wasn’t surprised,” at Ostrander’s PR, says Ihmels. “I think that was a really good place for her to start and she’s got room to improve from there.”
After placing 2nd in the NCAA Indoor 3000, Ostrander is just getting started over the barriers for the year.
“I haven’t thought about it a lot,” she says, “but I’m definitely hoping to improve throughout the season and see what I can do later on.”
However, the statement by Uchikoshi opened some eyes. At Boise since the winter of ’16, the 23-year-old Japanese has yet to qualify for an NCAA Championships on the oval, although his 18th-place finish at the NCAA Cross Country in ’16 showed he had potential.
He also has running genes on his father’s side. Dad Tadao Uchikoshi ran 2:12:52 in the marathon in ’94 and placed 5th at the ’93 World Championships.
Uchikoshi, says Ihmels, ran “13:58 for 5K as a high school kid so he was obviously really good.” Last year Uchikoshi won the open steeple at Mt. SAC in 8:48.88.
What’s Boise’s secret formula for building steeplechasers?
Ihmels, himself a sub-4:00 miler at Iowa State a couple of decades back, explains, “We kind of with every kid that we have—it’s not scientific at all but we’ll be at the track and I’ll say, ‘Run over a hurdle.’
“Allie was a little different because I knew Allie had done the 300 hurdles and I knew that she’s a pretty good athlete so that was a pretty easy transition.
“But yeah, [Uchikoshi] just took to it really quickly and I’ve had Hillary Bor at Iowa State who was a really good steepler [3-time NCAA scorer]. We had some luck so we try to find the kids that are athletic and away we go.”
With Alaska native Ostrander, “It was kind of the same sort of deal,” Ihmels says. “We were at practice and I knew she’d hurdled in high school and I asked her to go over a hurdle and I was like, ‘Wow, she’s pretty smooth over the hurdle.’
“But I think last year at this time she was coming off some injuries and we were just trying to figure out what she can and what she can’t do in training. And she’d been successful in cross country and indoors in the 5 and the 3, and I was just looking for something for her where she didn’t have any preconceived notion of how fast she needed to run.
“It was kind of counterintuitive a little bit but my thought process last year at this time was, ‘Let’s just go run the steeple. You’ve never run it before, you can hurdle.’ The water jump, she took to it really quickly.”
The steeplechase may not remain redshirt soph Ostrander’s event forever.
“She likes the challenge,” says Ihmels. “I kind of liken it to the mountain running [in which Ostrander won a World Junior title in ’15 before placing 3rd in NCAA Cross as a frosh]. It’s just a little different.
“I think she could be a really good 10K runner. I’ve had some good 10K runners in the past and she’s as good if not better. But we’ve got time to get there eventually. She’s got time later in her career or whatever, but now I think the steeple is something fun and different and she’s being really successful in it.”
Before Ostrander hits the Conference/Regionals/Nationals portion of her season in May and June, she says, “We’ll probably race at Mt. SAC and maybe at Payton Jordan too. I don’t think that we have any other meets on the schedule right now.”
Ihmels also related an event-choice anecdote to T&FN on the morning after the Stanford win.
“Right now on the bus to the airport today she asked about running an 800,” said the coach. “We can’t do it all but we have a home meet and maybe she’ll run an 800 or something for fun. I think we just need to keep her excited about it and moving in the right direction.”