Prize Recruit — Nate Mountain

“Winning Brooks was just incredible,” Nate Mountain says of his negative-split 8:42.16. (CHARLES SHAFFER)

WHEN CROSS COUNTRY DIDN’T GO as he had hoped last year, Ohio prep Nate Mountain (St. Xavier, Springfield Township) reconfigured his goals for track, hoping he could redeem something out of his senior year.

He found more than redemption in an oval campaign that he admits, “blew me away.”

Now a blue-chip recruit at Virginia, Mountain explains, “I really didn’t see myself having the track season I had because my cross season did not go the way I had wanted, especially with how I finished it. I wanted to win State and I got blown out. I lost by almost 30 seconds.”

After that he traveled to Terre Haute for the XC Town Meet of Champions to face a strong national field. He finished 24th, more than 35 seconds off the winner’s pace.

“I was just really frustrated. I took three weeks off. I usually don’t take that long, but I thought it was good mentally to just kind of reset.”

His goals for the spring, in hindsight, seem modest: 1:53 for 800, 4:07 for 4 laps, which would be a school record. For 8 laps, he was looking at an 8:50.

“It was cool to see my progression from indoor to outdoor,” he reflects. “It seemed like every week I was getting a little bit better and it just never stopped.”

Mountain is quick to give the credit to his high school coaches, Andy Wietmarschen in cross country, Jeremy Mosher in track, with each assisting the other. “Those guys deserve the recognition, because they’re amazing coaches,” he says.

He nailed his 800 goal with a 1:51 relay leg. He got close to the 8-lap goal with an 8:52.15 for 3200m in early May. Twelve days later he broke his school record in the 1600 with a 4:05.54 at District.

Then he focused entirely on a 1600/3200 double at the State Meet on June 05. He recounts, “For weeks I had been preparing for the double. I did some workouts where I would do a hard effort and wait an hour and then do another hard effort just to simulate it and get my body ready for it. I had Districts and Regionals to get ready for it.”

When the day came, temperatures were pushing 90 at the big meet. Mountain nailed the 1600, winning by 6-seconds-plus in 4:06.84. “I gave everything in the 16 and it was really hot. I just wanted to drink water, do everything to cool my body down and give myself some rest.

“After the first lap in the 3200, I knew it was going to be a grind because I was not feeling it.” He slogged home in 9:23.79. “I was able to get 7th and some points for the team. I was going in thinking I wanted to win it if not get 2nd. It just wasn’t my moment.”

He went back to Cincinnati with mixed feelings, little suspecting his biggest hits were yet to come. “I didn’t think I was going to run any more miles or 16s. And then a couple of days later, my coach was like, ‘Hey, on Wednesday some people are going for the fastest mile on Ohio soil, an hour away from here.’”

“OK, sure,” Mountain replied. “I’ll sign up and see how that goes.”

A mix of pros and collegians lined up for the race in Xenia; Mountain was the only prep. Veteran steepler Daniel Michalski took the win in 4:00.02, and Mountain, in 5th, pulverized his best with a 4:02.54: “I didn’t really expect to run so much faster than I did at State, but the competition really pulled me. At the start of the last lap, I was flying, but my legs felt it. The last 150, I kinda died. My body was just at the end; I gave it everything.”

With nearly a month to kill between State and the Brooks PR meet — and with fitness to burn — Mountain turned his attention to the steeplechase. Coach Mosher had mentioned that the national record of 5:41.67 for the rare 2K distance might be worth a shot.

“He’s like, ‘You really just have to hold 4:32 pace for the national record. This is actually something you can do with the shape you’re in.’ And he did all the work to put the meet together on the Xavier track.”

Mountain spent the next week learning how to hurdle. “I got my form down, but it never was that good.”

Good enough, though. In the first steeple of his life on June 16, he broke the national record with his 5:40.72. “That was really special. Not only was I able to get the HSR, but it was at our home track and a lot of my teammates were out there on the field since it was a small meet. They were running back and forth, cheering me on the whole time. Being able to finish with all of them right there was super special.”

The focus then turned to the 2M at the Brooks PR meet. Mountain did not come in as the favorite, nor did he harbor any intuition that he was the man. “I didn’t even expect it an hour before it happened,” he says. “My goal was to qualify for Brooks, not win it.”

Instead, he positioned himself in 2nd from the start, passing halfway in 4:24.6, then with 200 left blasted past leader Wolfe Parker from Colorado and won going away in 8:42.16, having covered the second half in 4:17.6.

Mountain says the key to his choosing Virginia was head coach Vin Lananna: “You really can’t beat his résumé. He’s got everything on there and he’s really a personal guy. He gets it and he’s not too hard on people. He’s personal with his training and he’s got the results to back it up.”

For his part, Lananna is excited for what’s to come: “Nate is a wonderful athlete with an exciting future. The possibilities are limitless for him at Virginia. I am looking forward to working with him as he develops as a natural leader and we identify his primary event. He has had outstanding high school coaching so the foundation is solid.”

A minor foot problem delayed Mountain’s cross country debut until the ACC. At the Southeast Regional he ran his first 10K in 30:37.8, placing 45th. “I wanted to run faster and place higher than I did,” he says. “But I think just the experience of running longer is going to help me for next year. It will be good to grow this track season and come back for cross next year.

“My focus is still going to be on the middle distances,” he says. “I’m going to work on the steeple too. I’m just not going to put all my eggs in that basket.

“[Coach Lananna] says he loves coaching the steeplechase. He’s pretty strict and he doesn’t want to send out people that are just going to be flopping around. So I’m going to have to work on my steeple drills to get my form down, which will be good with me. And it’s really cool the situation I’m in because we have Derek Johnson on the team, who just competed in the Olympic Trials steeple. I’ll have a great group of guys to grow with.”

A one-time basketball wannabe (“It didn’t work out”), Mountain made the decision as a high school frosh to stick with running: “I figured, ‘Hey, this is what I’m best at. I’m just going to go with it.’”