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LeDuc has experience to build upon this year

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published May 22. 2013 4:00AM
Courtesy of Conn College Athletics
Connecticut College junior Mike LeDuc, shown here competing in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at last year's NCAA Division III meet, is seeded second in the event this spring.

His national championship destination changes every spring. And so do his goals.

For the third straight year, Connecticut College's Michael LeDuc will compete in the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championship.

This time, he'll race at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

If all goes according to plan, LeDuc will return home with a top two finish in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. He's seeded second in the event, which begins Thursday night with preliminaries and ends with Saturday's final.

LeDuc, a four-time All-American in all sports, will draw from his previous two national outdoor meets to hopefully gain an extra edge. Overall, this will be his sixth NCAA event, counting indoor track and cross country.

"Every time I go I always want to do a little better," LeDuc said Tuesday. "When you get a taste of it, you always want to get a little bit faster. I was happy to get fourth last year. ... I've got big goals for this meet."

LeDuc, a junior from Canton, began mapping out a plan on the way back from last year's nationals. He made the trip Tuesday with coaches Jim Butler and Ned Bishop.

"It never gets old," Butler said. "We're thrilled. We got on the plane last year coming home and he said he was coming back and he had some lofty goals. He worked hard all year to get here."

LeDuc spent countless hours working on improving his speed and strength. Earlier last month, he set the school record with a time of 8 minutes, 54.80 seconds.

LeDuc also qualified in the 5,000 meters and recently defended his New England Division III outdoor title on May 4 in a time of 14:30.03. He's seeded 18th, but is shooting for All-American status, the top eight.

"The sky is the limit," LeDuc said.

If LeDuc reaches the finals in both of his events, he will run the steeplechase first Saturday and then compete in the 5,000 about three hours and 45 minutes later.

"He's attempting a double, which is pretty tough," Butler said.

LeDuc's stiffest competition in the steeplechase will come from good friend and New England Small College Athletic Conference rival, Middlebury's Jack Davies, the top seed. Davis edged LeDuc for the NESCAC title.

"Mike is focusing on his own race, not the other guys racing," Butler said. "Obviously, we know what Davies can do and we have a plan to hopefully make the outcome as positive as possible for Mike."

The steeplechase is a somewhat unpredictable event, as athletes are required to clear barriers, including one that features a water pit.

LeDuc has learned to master the quirky race.

"It's a very disruptive event," Butler said. "Here you are, running along and you have to jump all those barriers ... Mike has become very good keep those disruptions to a minimum. He's very efficient over those hurdles."

Heading into the nationals, LeDuc is in a good place. He's in top physical condition and mentally prepared. He's also highly-motivated and determined to win a national title before graduating next year.

"I feel like we've done everything right this year," LeDuc said. "All the pieces are in place."

Bishop says that he'll be able to tell on race day if LeDuc is ready to race.

"We've come to know when we take a look at him from afar on race day the greener he looks, the better he's going to run," Bishop said with a laugh.

"His color just changes because the nerves start eating away at him. ... I'm sure he'll be relaxed about the whole thing, but then the excitement, the butterflies, the anticipation will all build up on a race day.

That's part of what makes him go."

g.keefe@theday.com

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