Looking back on her early days as a runner, Carsyn Koch can’t help but laugh.
She was a member of the Washburn District High School cross country team in 2010 and also competed on the Beavers’ fledgling outdoor track and field squad.
Koch and her teammates didn’t have their own track on which to practice.
“I would just run on my own, through town or on the trails,” she said, gratefully recalling the times she was able to train at the Caribou High School facility.
“They were very gracious hosts for us. They let us practice pretty much any time that we needed to,” Koch said.
Koch has proved that it is more one’s passion for competing and the determination to improve that determine potential. This week, the freshman at Cedarville (Ohio) University is preparing for the biggest meet of her life.
Koch will represent the Lady Jackets at the NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships May 21-23 at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.
“I get nervous when I think about it,” said Koch, who has met NCAA automatic qualifying standards in the 800 meters and the 1,500 meters.
The thought of being in the company of championship-caliber college runners is daunting but her parents, Peter and Liane, and Cedarville coach Jeff Bolender keep reminding her not to underestimate herself.
“What I’m trying to think in my head is, I have just as much of a chance as the other people who are ranked and I need to race with the confidence that portrays that I think I can do it,” she said.
Koch has made a successful transition to college athletics. Last weekend, she won two events to help Cedarville place ninth at the National Christian College Athletic Association outdoor championship at Rome, Georgia.
Koch won the 1,500 in 4 minutes, 24.26 seconds, which ranks her seventh in Division II this spring. She also claimed the 800 in 2:12.62.
On April 24, she sped to a time of 2:07.25 in the 800 at the Triton Invitational in San Diego. That shattered a school record (2:09.19) set in 1986 by U.S. Olympic Trials participant Jane Romig Brooker.
“I was able to run against a professional runner who runs for Brooks, so that was kind of cool,” Koch said.
It is her only loss during the indoor and outdoor seasons.
“She’s been in some big races and has run very well,” Bolender said. “That’s a long stretch not to be beaten in an individual [college] event.”
Koch tuned up for the NCAA meet by helping Cedarville win the Mid-West Athletic Conference outdoor championship. She established league records in the 400 (57.85) and the 800 (2:14.23) and took the high jump at 5 feet, 3 inches.
She also owns or shares Cedarville records in the 500 meters (1:15.36), the 4×800 relay (9:04.08) and the distance medley relay (12:02.55).
Koch enjoyed one of the most successful and well-rounded athletic careers imaginable at Washburn. She competed in five different sports including basketball, soccer, cross country, outdoor track and soccer.
From 2010-2014, Koch claimed four Class C cross country individual state championships and one Class C team title (2012). She played on four consecutive Class D basketball state title teams (2011-2014) and helped Washburn win the school’s first girls soccer state crown in 2013.
Koch never really took the opportunity to specialize in a particular sport, instead enjoying the best of all opportunities.
“Whether it’s soccer or basketball or running or Monopoly, I’m a competitor,” she explained. “I feed off competition and I like to sort of test out, this specific thing that I’m putting my mind to, how good can I get?”
Bolender had seen some of Koch’s potential because of her well-rounded sports resume in high school, but even he has been surprised by her success.
“She had shown good abilities in a wide variety of things without any focused, structured training,” he explained. “That was indicative to me of somebody who’s kind of a late bloomer, somebody who’s underdeveloped. I didn’t anticipate she was going to be this good, this fast.”
Attending Cedarville has given Koch a new-found appreciation for the magnitude of the challenge that both track and field and academics provide at the college level.
She has been exposed to extensive coaching and intense training for the first time as a track and field athlete.
“The competition level and the level of commitment changes so much from high school to college that it feels like a totally different set of sports,” Koch offered.
She said Cedarville provides the environment she needs to help her improve while providing a stage to enjoy success.
“It was a little overwhelming at first,” she admitted, referring to balancing college classes, three-hour practices, bus trips and stiff competition.
“There’s definitely been a learning curve,” she added.
Koch said one of the most rewarding aspects has been sharing the experience with other student-athletes who are serious about track and field and cross country.
“One of the biggest differences is having a group of girls who are all very passionate about running and who adopt the runner’s lifestyle, which I don’t think I had until I came here,” she said.
Koch, Washburn’s 2014 valedictorian, has already changed from biology/pre-medicine studies to a concentration in nursing.
“It’s a lot harder than you thought it was going to be,” she said. “I learned how to manage my time.”
Koch will return to Maine next week for the Presque Isle High School graduation of her younger sister Tori. In the meantime, she will continue to train for the NCAAs.
Because of the NCAA format of having to run trials and finals, she will choose between the 800 or the 1,500.
“It’s a big step to go to a quality meet like that and compete well, so I don’t want to overburden her with running four races over a couple of days and [instead] just help her to focus on one thing and do it really well,” Bolender said.
Koch looks forward to the biggest challenge of her budding track career.
“I’m excited for the experience of nationals, that and to be among really elite athletes. At the same time, I’m not counting myself out.”