At the NCAA East Regional Division I Track and Field Championships at the University of North Florida Friday night, things didn’t go exactly according to plan for Cornell junior Genna Hartung.
There was a pile-up in the former Seton Catholic standout’s heat of the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and the race had to be called back after 200 meters.
After a 10-minute delay, where five runners had to be taped up for excessive race-wound bleeding, Hartung composed herself enough to close with the fastest last lap of any competitor in her race and finish fourth, and run the fastest time in Cornell school history.
The good news didn’t stop there.
Hartung’s performance qualified her for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
An ecstatic Hartung explained that she was happy enough to set a huge personal-best time over the distance, finishing in 10 minutes, 10.55 seconds.
“When I crossed the line, saw that I had set a school record and set a PR, I did my first ever fist pump, something I never do,” Hartung said. “I would have been happy about just that, but qualifying for NCAAs is just icing on the cake.”
Her breakthrough race not only qualifies her for NCAAs, but it also gives her the “B” standard for the Olympic Trials later this summer. Hartung’s coach, Artie Smith, thinks she will need a sub-10:05 performance at NCAAs to qualify for the Olympic Trials, but says the race plan with her always remains the same because of her strong closing speed.
“The expectations are always the same, she just needs to run her race,” Smith said. “She finishes races so well and her last 1,000 meters are as good as anyone I’ve been around.”
The biggest surprise might be that Hartung hadn’t run a single steeplechase before starting college at Cornell. Unlike most other sections around New York State, Section VII doesn’t contain any competition in the steeplechase. Athletes who want to pursue this grueling, longest-hurdle event will have to travel to out-of-area meets.
With her track success at the other distances, Hartung never tackled the steeplechase in high school and was fresh to the event in college, said Seton coach Kathy Champagne.
“When she got to college the steeple was a challenge for her, and she loves a challenge,” Champagne said. “It takes a special athlete, someone with endurance and someone who can stay focused on the barriers the whole race.”
Hartung showed her ability to live up to the challenge of the steeplechase with an ECAC individual title earlier this season, and carried her confidence into the regional meet.
Katie Kellner, Hartung’s housemate, qualified for the NCAA meet the night before in the 10,000. This is something which Hartung and her coach joked about in regards to housing arrangements leading into the steeplechase.
Smith, who summed up Hartung’s racing this season in one word — clutch — said that her housemate would need a roommate at NCAAs. With her qualifying performance, it’s safe to say that Hartung came through in the clutch yet again.
Hartung is the most recent of former Seton runners that have excelled at the NCAA Division I level. Her former teammate Mary Kate Champagne, competed for Providence at three NCAA cross country meets. Former Seton miler Jason Jabaut and his Villanova indoor distance medley relay team were victorious at the 2002 indoor NCAA meet before going on to run a 3:57 mile after college.
Also, starting in 2004, home-schooled athlete Josh McDougal went on to earn 14 All American awards for Liberty University.
With another chance to come through with a clutch performance, Hartung will compete at the NCAA outdoor meet June 6-9 at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.