Running down a dream

Katrina Rundhaug has defied her own expectations; now she sets her sights on All-American honors

It was not all that long ago that Katrina Rundhaug doubted that she could compete at the Division I level. And before she joined the University of Wisconsin's cross country and track and field teams this academic year she never dreamed of winning a Big Ten title. But a month ago, before the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, Rundhaug, a sophomore transfer from the University of Minnesota, began to believe.

On May 13, Rundhaug won the 10,000 meters at the Big Ten outdoor meet, a dramatic improvement upon her 10th place finish as a Gopher last year.

"As Big Tens got closer at first I was like, ‘Oh, I'll get top three. That would be awesome,'" Rundhaug said in a telephone interview Saturday. "I started to realize maybe… there is a possibility I can win this… I had a lot of confidence going into that race. I believed that I could win the race because my workouts had been going well and I'd improved a lot throughout this year. I was really, really excited. I wanted to win that race more than anything."

She did just that, completing the distance in 35 minutes, 26.85 seconds. Thursday night, Rundhaug takes to the track on the national stage. She is seeded 11th for the NCAA Outdoor Championship 10K run; the final in that event is slated for midnight Central Time in Sacramento, Calif.

"I really want to be in the top eight and earn All-American honors," Rundhaug said. "But even if I don't finish that high I can't be too disappointed because it's such an improvement from where I was at last year."

A native of Dodgeville, Wis., in high school Rundhaug dreamed of running for her home state Badgers. But she did not feel comfortable with former UW head coach Peter Tegen's training system, which focused on middle distance events. Rundhaug, the Badgers' best cross country runner last fall and also the track team's top performer in the 5,000 (indoor and outdoor) and 3,000 (indoor) meters, felt that she would be better served at UM.

She had success in her freshman season in the Twin Cities, posting the best times at UM in the 5,000 and 10,000 during the outdoor season and finishing 14th at the Big Ten indoor meet in the 3,000. But there was a catch.

"I just wasn't happy when I was there," Rundhaug said. "I felt like something was missing. I just didn't feel at home. I always wanted to be a Badger so… (Minnesota) just didn't fit. It wasn't a good fit for me I guess."

The chips fell into place when Rundhaug heard that UW was seeking a replacement for Tegen. She did not know much about Jim Stintzi, the former Michigan State cross country coach and track assistant who took over the Badger programs this season. But her prep coach gave him high marks. When it came time to transfer, Rundhaug only considered Wisconsin.

"I'm very, very happy I did (transfer)," she said. "I feel like if I wouldn't have transferred to Wisconsin, I don't think I would have had as much improvement."

"It's been a real positive experience for her but it's also been a positive experience for the people that are on the team currently just to have Katrina to train with," Stintzi said. "And she's been so consistent."

Rundhaug attributed her success this year to improved confidence and a more rigorous training regimen. She became more confident as she enjoyed success at Minnesota. And Stintzi nurtured that sense of self assurance by raising her level of expectations.

When she was in high school, Rundhaug said, "I looked at other girl's times (and) I just didn't think I was at that level. But when I went to college… I did alright… I started to gain more confidence and I thought I definitely could be on varsity at Wisconsin."

Stintzi views Rundhaug as one of the building blocks for the future of the rebuilding Badger program. Prior to the NCAA Mideast Regional in late May, Stintzi said that Melissa Talbot, a back-to-back Big Ten champion in the heptathlon, will redshirt next year. That will make her a senior in 2007 along with Rundhaug and Erica Schoeller, a third-year athlete who is redshirting the outdoor season this year. With that trio laying the foundation, Stintzi feels UW could be among the top three programs in the Big Ten.

"When I first came here Coach Stintzi told me what he thought I was capable of running and I was like in shock," Rundhaug said.

"Having him have that kind of expectations for me has made me believe more in myself and has made me want to work harder and want to do better," she said.

But before the season started, Rundhaug still could not fathom having ‘Big Ten champion' appended to her name.

"I just wanted to score; like be in the top eight before the season actually started," she said. "I wasn't even really dreaming of winning the Big Ten 10K."

"For her to go from 10th to first I think was a really big step for her," Stintzi said. "I was proud of the way she raced and kind of dropped everybody relatively early in the race. It was a real positive thing for the team."

Rundhaug was also the Badgers' top qualifier in the 5,000, but she chose not to compete at the Mideast Regional. She traveled with the team and worked out in Columbus, Ohio, but focused on training for the 10,000, an event that does not require regional qualifying.

"It was good to have a break from that at regionals and not have to worry about… the 5K or actually trying to qualify and have all that pressure," she said. "It was a good break mentally and physically from racing that week."

Earning All-American honors would be a nice way to close out her first year at UW.

"If I were to look at where I was at last year I would have been happy with anything at nationals," Rundhaug said. "But this year because I know that I've made it there… my goals are higher than that… I definitely want to be in the top eight."

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