Two Connecticut college freshman earned their tickets to the 2017 Pan American Junior Championships in Trujillo, Peru, from Friday, July 21, to Sunday, July 23. Sam Drop of the University of Georgia and Coginchaug High School won the 5000m in 16:56.91 and Eric van der Els of UConn and Brien McMahon High School won the 1500m 3:46.84 at USATF Junior Nationals in late June.
The men's 1500m semi finals will go off at 10:20 (EST) July 21 and the women's 5000m starts at noon on July 22nd.
CT Milesplit caught up with van der Els as he was preparing to leave for Peru in his first international competition.
What makes UConn a great fit?
UConn is great fit for me because of what it was to offer academically, athletically and socially. I love working with the advisors who help guide me into making the best decisions. On the running side of it all, I have adapted well to coach Roy's training methods as planned. Workouts have been going really well and I feel extremely comfortable with how I am progress is coming along. I also enjoy having great training partners at UConn and supportive teammates
What will you remember the most from this season?
What I will remember most from this season would be competing in the USATF Junior National Championships. Other than winning the 1500m there, it was a great trip and an amazing experience to be surrounded with tons of elite colligate and professional runners. My teammate who I have become very good friends with over the year, Cam Thompson, also qualified for the Pan American games in the Hammer throw so that made it even more of a fun and memorable trip.
What was your game plan going into the 1500m at USATF JR Nationals?
My game plan going into the 1500m at Junior Nationals was to be in contact with the leader at all times throughout the race until it was time to make the final move. I wanted to get a good position in the pack off the gun so having to go out and fight for it was crucial. I knew that once I got into my position, I would have to be patient and wait to execute my move that would put me into the lead and be able to hold off the competition.
How did you feel after you crossed the finish line and made your first national team?
It was a great moment and I'd say my highlight of freshman season. This race has been on my agenda for about 12 months prior to the competition and to be able see the results of all my training come out in a win like that feels unbelievable.
How are you approaching your first international competition differently than other races?
What I have been doing over the past couple of weeks a little differently is just maintaining the shape I am currently in. I feel like I have the strength to hold on in a fast race and my confidence in my closing speed has increased after my last race at USATF Junior Nationals. The workouts have cut down in volume and I have tapered the mileage in the last week.
What are your goals for next year?
My goals for next year would be to continue to increase my strength and run some personal bests in the 5k and 3k. I am also pumped to run the mile indoors and improve my time on that. Sub 4 minutes for the mile is what I would be working on,
As a shout out to the McManiacs out there, how has your high school experience at Brien McMahon prepared you for the more competitive college running and training?
My experience at Brien McMahon as an athlete is something I would never trade anything in the world for. Coach Brentson and Coach Bradley have done so much to get me competitive and ready to run at the next level. These coaches helped me achieve all of my goals which were to get invites or qualified into the elite high school races against the best runners who I now recognize in the NCAA. I also had great Co Captains that would push me in all my workouts. Dan Linehan, Niko Petridis and Ajax Diamands were the best Co Captains I could have asked for and they had a huge impact in my final year at McMahon.
Favorite music to listen to before a race? Rap/Hip Hop
Who are your favorite pro teams? Mets, Jets, Lakers
Which pro runner would you most like to race in the future? Clayton Murphy
College Major? Undeclared
Van der Els File:
2016 5k Indoor New Balance National Champion (CT state indoor record)... 2016 3k Penn Relays Champion (CT State outdoor record)... 2016 indoor 1000m, 1600m, 3200m State Open Champion and 2016 outdoor 1600 State Open Champion... Fastest high school mile on CT soil at the Danbury Dream Invitational with a 4:05.30.