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Perfect Timing

Sophomore claims All-American honor, MIAA championship in program's second season

Jacob Klemz

From The Ichabod - Winter 2018

In a sport where timing is everything, Washburn University couldn’t have picked a better year to start its cross country program.

The formation of the Ichabods’ inaugural team coincided with the 2016 graduation of Hayden High School runner Jacob Klemz. As a result, Washburn is home to an All-American long-distance runner just two years into the program’s existence.

Klemz ran an 8K in 31:48.4 at the NCAA Division II cross country national championship Nov. 18 in Evansville, Indiana, finishing in 32nd place to claim the All-American honors awarded to the nation’s top 40 runners.

The sophomore clocked faster times earlier in the year, but all things considered, he said his final run of the season was his finest.

“I was beat up for most of year, but that was my best strategic race,” Klemz said of his performance at the national championship. “It wasn’t my best time-wise, but as far as strategy and how I approached it, it was the best run I’ve had.”

Klemz made up the most ground between the first and second kilometer, when he rose from 88th place to 57th. By the 5K mark, he was just on the right side of the All-America cutoff, sitting in 39th place.

After a brief slide to 41st, Klemz used a strong finish to climb nine spots for All-American status.

“Coming into college, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Klemz, who finished 58th at the national meet as a freshman. “I wasn’t crazy good coming out of high school, so I didn’t know how I’d do.”

While it’s unclear what qualifies as crazy good in Klemz’s eyes, there was no shortage of accolades during his four years at Hayden. He was the city cross country champion, Centennial League runner-up and an all-state honoree with a fifth place finish in his last high school race.

To continue running at the collegiate level, Klemz originally thought he would have to leave his hometown of Topeka and considered the University of Kansas and Pittsburg State University.

“But then I heard Washburn was starting a program, and I fell in love with it,” he said. “The summer going into my senior year, my dad saw online they were staring a program, so I had a little interest and pursued it more when Coach (Cameron) Babb gave me a call.”

Prior to his recruitment, Klemz said he hadn’t met Babb, who ran for Santa Fe Trail High School and Emporia State University, but he was sold on the proximity to home and the other benefits Washburn offered.

“I liked how close the campus is together, how it’s all kind of compact,” said Klemz, who is majoring in business. “The class sizes were smaller, so I didn’t have to worry about sitting in classes with 300 people. Everyone was friendly on campus, the counselors were all really receptive.”

The choice to attend Washburn paid off. Klemz won invitationals at Emporia State and Southwest Baptist to start his sophomore season, then finished second at the Rim Rock Farm Collegiate Classic against competition that included The University of Kansas and other Division I schools.

In the national championship, he bested all MIAA runners, repeating a feat he pulled off earlier when he finished first in the conference championship Oct. 21 in Warrensburg, Missouri.

A third-place finish by Klemz at the NCAA regionals in Kearney, Nebraska, helped Washburn finish 18th out of 32 teams and punched his ticket to the national championship.

The individual season was the best in the program’s young history, but with two seasons remaining at Washburn, he’s far from satisfied.

“I’ve only scratched the surface of what we’ve been working on,” he said. “I definitely want to try getting faster foot speed and closing harder. If I do that, I think I can get into the top five and be in the mix for first.”

To get there, Klemz said 30-mile weeks will ramp up to 70 miles by the end of the summer, eventually peaking in the low 80s. While hours of running leads to occasional soreness, his love for the sport and the continued pursuit of lofty goals prevent any possibility of burnout.

“I shot for (All-American honors) last year and missed it,” Klemz said. “This year, I was shooting for top 10, and it didn’t happen. I’m still happy I was able to make All-American, but if I’m patient with my training, the hope is to keep improving and contend for a national championship.”

Jacob Klemz's in 2017

NCAA Division II Men’s Cross Country Championship: 32nd place, All-American

NCAA Regional Championship: 3rd place

MIAA Cross Country Championship: 1st place

Top Division II athlete in all three regular season meets

Named MIAA Athlete of the Week four times during the season


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