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NCAA TRACK & FIELD - Sullivan takes jump to All-American status at UWL

Sullivan takes jump to All-American status at UWL
Two years after medaling for Medford at the WIAA state championships, Joey Sullivan earned All-American status at the NCAA Division III national meet, placing fifth for team champion UW-La Crosse in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. SASHI POPKE PHOTO
Sullivan takes jump to All-American status at UWL
Two years after medaling for Medford at the WIAA state championships, Joey Sullivan earned All-American status at the NCAA Division III national meet, placing fifth for team champion UW-La Crosse in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. SASHI POPKE PHOTO


After finding his way as a freshman, Joey Sullivan has grown into a successful collegiate runner, just like his followers were used to seeing when he was a Medford Raider.

Sullivan completed his second year at UWLa Crosse with the title of All-American after his fifth-place finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA Division III National Track and Field Championships, held May 23-25 at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

He is also a 2024 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) champion, winning the 5,000-meter title at the May 3-4 league meet, hosted by UW-Platteville.

A year ago, Sullivan wasn’t even on the Eagles’ outdoor roster after a brief health hiccup. But that’s when he started tinkering with the steeplechase and started to think it might just be the outdoor event for him.

“It definitely helps having basketball as a background I would say,” said Sullivan, a 2022 Medford graduate who also was a hoops standout as a Raider. “They know I’m coordinated with that and jumping. Last year a lot of us did it. We’d at least go to practices. Once a week we’d have steeplechase stuff, different drills and hurdles. If you like it, you kinda stay with it.

“I did enjoy it right away for sure. I liked the different aspect of it, just because it’s such a different race and feel. Looking at pace-wise, how fast of running it is, you’re like this should be easy, and it can feel like that for the first bit. Then all of a sudden it hits you like a mile in, you’re like all right, now it’s grind time.”

The steeplechase is a unique distance event with added obstacles. Male runners must clear 28 3-foot barriers during the race and seven water jumps, where a 3.66-meter long water pit exists behind a hurdle. Unlike hurdles, the normal barriers do not move. The water in the pit is shallower farther away from the hurdle, giving runners who jump farther an advantage. In fact, Sullivan said, most steeplechasers like to step right off the hurdle, which catapults them over most of the water pit.

While not on UWL’s official roster last spring, Sullivan did compete unattached in a few meets with a best time of 9:08.

“There’s a different mindset, looking at the racing,” Sullivan said. “You’re not thinking big picture, it’s more like hurdle to hurdle and looking at that water jump. I like that, piecing it up a little bit. It makes me think about the race better.”

Sullivan qualified for the national meet with his personal-best time of 8:49.37, which won the event at the April 24 Gary Wilson Invitational, held at the University of Minnesota.

“We were planning on going to the Drake Relays, but then we ended up getting pretty bad weather and just not great conditions so we took a chance in Minnesota and it was perfect weather,” Sullivan said. “Sixty degrees, minimal wind and it was just so nice and ended up being a great day. I had a good race for sure. Our whole team. We saw PRs all around.”

Sullivan got his first NCAA championship experience in March at the Division III indoor meet, where he took 16th in the one-mile run. He entered the competition as the fifth seed. On day one, he took second in his preliminary heat at 9:04.26, finishing behind eventual champion Christian Patzka of UW-Whitewater (9:03.96).

“Indoor I didn’t make it to the final like I wanted to, so that obviously stung a lot, watching everybody run the second day,” Sullivan said. “I wanted to be there. I just didn’t feel it that day. Coming in, I was like, all right, I know what I need to do. I know I’m a top contender in the field so I’m going to position myself to be in the front. I knew Christian Patzka, the guy who won it, was in my heat. I remember in the last lap I started to catch him, but I could tell he was slowing down. I knew once I get to him I know I’m safe because I know he’s not getting beat.”

Sullivan lowered his time to 9:02 in the final, his second-best time of the spring. Patzka won it at 8:50.75. There definitely was a midwestern feel to the event. Christopher Collet of Wartburg (Iowa) was second at 8:55.54, UWL’s Adam Loenser was third in 8:56.4 and Will Kelly of St. Olaf (Minn.) was just ahead of Sullivan at 9:01.2. UW-Eau Claire’s Mason Shea was sixth at 9:04.71 and UWL’s Mason Brown (9:07.65) and Jayden Zywicki (9:14.24) were eighth and ninth. The top eight finishers earned All-American status.

“I just wanted to put myself in a position to compete,” Sullivan said. “We went out slow. I was able to feel where I was in the race. When they made a move with about three laps to go, I just didn’t quite have it in me to totally respond to what some of the top group was doing. I do wish I would’ve made a little better of a conscious effort to get onto Will Kelly, who ended up taking fourth in that race, just because I was able to close on him at the end and he beat me by a second. He’s obviously a very good runner too. I feel there were definitely some learning points within that to be made but I was still very happy with how I finished and how I closed out the season. Obviously getting an All-American spot is always cool.”

Also cool was being part of UWL’s second national championship of the season. After dominating the NCAA indoor meet back in March, the Eagles took the outdoor title with 76 points, well ahead of runner-up UW-Oshkosh (48). Eleven of those points came in the steeplechase. UWL very nearly took the trifecta of running- based national championships this school year. The Eagles were one point shy of the title in cross country in November. Sullivan was the third finisher on that team.

“Having four from the same team in a final of 12 is pretty crazy for sure,” Sullivan said of the steeplechase. “That’s just awesome coming to the start line and it feels like a home meet. You’re looking down and you see all your friends who you’ve raced with the entire year and trained with. It definitely gives you a bit of a calming sense that you’re not alone. You have all your teammates right here. That definitely helps a lot. We’ll all be back next year. That will be a big deal.”

The Eagles’ depth propelled them to the WIAC title as well. They scored 236 points, while Oshkosh was a distant second with 166.

Sullivan won the 5,000-meter race in 14:37.13, beating Whitewater freshman Dan Anderson by 8.97 seconds.

“One of my teammates (Loenser) helped pace me and if he would’ve finished the race, he would’ve beat me, but that just wasn’t in the cards,” Sullivan said. “His job was to pace. We were talking afterwards and I said, ‘hey you could’ve finished it if you wanted’ and he said ‘I just didn’t know.’ I said ‘I’m not mad at you for not finishing, it’s all good here.’ It was cool for sure getting that win, maybe gained a little more confidence in myself there too for sure.”

Sullivan’s best 5,000-meter time is 14:14.6, which put him in eighth place at the April 12-13 UW-Platteville Invitational. He also ran one 1,500-meter race this spring, taking 12th at 3:56.05 at UWL’s Ashton May Invitational on April 6 and was part of one 1,600-meter relay team that took third in 3:28.55 at UWL’s Phil Esten Challenge April 19-20.

With a training schedule that will include about 75 miles of running per week this summer, Sullivan is looking forward to what’s ahead for him and the Eagles in 2024-25.

“I definitely knew I had it in me,” he said of this year’s success. “I was just waiting for the training to kick in kinda find just what it takes in college. It takes a little bit for that training to hit your legs quite right. Wait and it will come.”

Joey Sullivan clears one of the barriers during the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase final at the NCAA Division III track and field championships held May 23-25 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Sullivan placed fifth in this race to earn an All-American award. Earlier in the spring, Sullivan won the WIAC’s 5,000-meter championship. SASHI POPKE PHOTO