March 11, 2004
Annapolis, Md. - Navy senior distance runner Erik Schmidt (Spokane, Wash.) became the first Navy runner since Michael Ryan in 1999 to qualify for the NCAA Men's Indoor Track and Field Championship in Fayetteville, Ark., when the field was officially announced on this week. Schmidt is seeded 12th out of 14 entrants with a time of 4:01.56 entering Friday night's preliminaries, with the finals to be held Saturday night.
"It's going to be interesting," said Schmidt, who posted his qualifying time at last Saturday's Alex Wilson Invitational at Notre Dame, breaking Ryan's school-record in the process. "It has been a lot of hard work not just for me, but for my teammates, as well. There has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears by a lot of people to reach this point. Teammates have been there to serve as rabbits for me or to double and, sometimes, triple up in events at a meet so I wouldn't have to exhaust myself and could stay fresh. It allowed me to focus more on the mile."
Reaching the NCAA Championship signifies a coming of age for Schmidt. The senior is following in the footsteps of former teammate Aaron Lanzel, who left big shoes to fill. Lanzel recently finished sixth in the 1500m at the U.S. Indoor Track and Field Championship and is training at the Academy for the U.S. Olympic Trials. He has been a source of inspiration and guidance for Schmidt during his trek to the NCAA meet. Lanzel had the 17th fastest mile time in the NCAA in 2003 when the top 16 were taken and never had the chance to compete in the big dance.
"Getting to this point makes me a little nervous," said Schmidt. "Aaron is an incredible runner and I am stepping out from behind his shadow. This will be the first time where I have stepped out on my own onto this type of stage.
"Aaron has been a great source of inspiration and a good model to follow."
"We'd been so close the last couple of years," said Navy assistant coach Al Cantello, who directs the distance runner. "We were becoming the bridesmaid, but never the bride. I wanted to wait until we knew for sure that he was qualified before I got overly euphoric. Eric deserves the opportunity."
Entering the NCAA Championship field with the 12th fastest time, Schmidt knows it will be a challenge to advance to the finals, but he is taking it one race at a time.
"Being the 12th-fastest out of 14, my focus is to advance in the prelims," he said. "If I qualify for the finals, then I will turn my focus on the final. For one of the first times this season, I will be seriously outgunned."
Schmidt is taking a wait-and-see approach on how he expects to finish.
"Coach Cantello always gives me good strategy on how to run a race," said the senior. "I will follow it and see what happens."