There isn’t much that Kapaun Mount Carmel senior Matt Wilson enjoys about running the 3200 meters or even the 1600. It’s basically running one lap after another, after another, after another.
But put a steeplechase pit on the track and fill it with water, and suddenly the boredom vanishes during the 2,000-meter race.
“Steeplechase, it just switches it up,” Wilson said. “It’s not as monotonous. It’s kind of fun jumping over things instead of just running for four to eight laps.”
While Wilson won the steeplechase at the KU Relays in April and his 6-minute, 20.61-second team ranks fifth in Kansas high school history, he will only compete in the 1600 and the 3200 in Class 5A at the state track and field meet on Friday and Saturday at Cessna Stadium.
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As for the steeplechase, well, that’s not a state event.
“It’s kind of a bummer,” Wilson said. “It’s a fun event.”
Longtime Heights coach Steve Crosley has been an advocate of the steeplechase, even requesting a steeplechase pit when the Falcons upgraded from a cinder track to an all-weather surface in 2007.
Steeplechase pits have since been installed at East, North, Northwest, Southeast and West.
“I would be in favor of adding steeplechase as a state event,” Crosley said. “There’s the 1600 and the 3200 for the true distance runners, and that’s it. It just gives them something else to do. And it’s an exciting event — people like watching kids jump into the water.”
The steeplechase – the hurdle at the water pit and four other hurdles during each lap – is part of Heights’ meets, and Crosley said it never lacks for participants.
City League athletic director J Means’ proposal before the Kansas Interscholastic Athletic Adminstrators Association to add steeplechase as a non-scoring state event was voted down in March. So it can’t go to the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s board of directors.
Kapaun track coach John Kornelson, who also was a longtime track coach at Wichita State, said the United States has lagged in steeplechase in international competition.
“It’s one of the oldest events in track and field, and the U.S. has been up and down at it,” Kornelson said. “If we start it in high school, we’re going to better our sport. It’s a tremendous event, but it’s very demanding. It’s grueling.”
It’s the obstacles during the course of the 2000-meter race that increase the difficulty.
“The water jump absolutely takes it out of you,” Kornelson said. “Can you imagine jumping in the water and, if you’re really good, you’re landing with one foot in the water and one foot out? That’s a tremendous span to cover. You’re exerting a lot of energy every time you do it.”
But the obstacles are Wilson’s favorite.
“It’s fun to win, and it’s better than the mile. It’s fast, it’s different,” he said.
Before high school, Wilson’s knowledge of the steeplechase came from watching videos highlighting competitors falling in the water after jumping over the hurdle.
He fell once last season, but was able to pop back up and not lose too much time.
“I’ve done it enough now that I think I’ve built up confidence,” he said. “It’s just getting over fast and try not to fall.”
Once Wilson tried steeplechase, he quickly realized he had talent.
He will compete in the steeplechase at the Great Southwest Track and Field Classic in Albuquerque next week.
Wichita State, Pittsburg State and Hutchinson have shown interest in signing Wilson.
“He has a tremendously efficient stride,” Kornelson said. “It’s not a long stride. It’s a shorter stride.… He keeps his legs more under his hips. Maybe he takes a few more steps, but it’s way more efficient. When you have that kind of advantage and get the other training components in line, you’ll be a good runner.”
Wilson, who finished fourth in Class 5A in cross country in 2014 and seventh in 2015, has shown marked improvement in his track events this season. He finished second in the 1600 at regionals.
But Wilson isn’t sure about his future.
His goal for the past 11 years has been to become a pilot.
He had hoped to attend the Air Force Academy, but while he got a nomination, he was denied. Yet through that process that included submitting personal essays, his mother, Michele Banks, discovered a deeper side to her son.
“Because he doesn’t talk a lot, we have to extract things from him,” Banks said. “From those papers, we found out things.… He said that he wants to push harder, find out how fast he can go, how hard he can push himself.
“We’ve seen that because he does that with about everything he does. He taught himself so much — guitar, drums. He dives into things.”
Such a mindset goes along with the fact that he’s an adrenaline junkie, Banks said.
“He likes to jump off 100-foot cliffs. He likes to water ski going really fast. He loves to get his mountain bike out,” she said.
“… I think steeplechase is difficult enough to keep him excited. But it’s going to be difficult for him to figure out the pilot part.”
If Wilson chooses track, it’s possible his path to being a pilot will take a detour.
He’s unsure right now if that’s what he wants. It’s possible that his track career will end with next week’s race.
Yet the steeplechase continues to tug at his competitive side.
“It would be fun to see what I could do with that type of training,” he said. “But it would be nice to be done and move on, too.”