The University of Akron freshman and Avon Lake graduate will get his first taste of national championship competition Friday at 10 p.m. when he competes in the 10,000-meter run at the USA Junior Track and Field Championships at Drake University in Iowa.
Norris qualified for the national meet March 29 in his first outdoor meet of the season when he clocked 31 minutes, 4.87 seconds to win his section in the Raleigh Relays at North Carolina State University.
He will be the No. 8 seed in Friday’s race.
To say Norris was a raw rookie at 10,000 meters would be an understatement. His only other experience running that distance was at the Great Lakes Regional cross country championships at Wisconsin in the fall. He clocked 32:04.
“Last fall was my introduction into college running,” said Norris, a 2011 Division I All-Ohio cross country runner for the Shoremen. “We worked at trying to individualize things, seeing what worked and what didn’t. We were able to morph it to fit my style and abilities.
Things have progressed well. I had a good winter of training and a good indoor season. I came into the spring season in very good shape. We kept it rolling.
“We had good weather and good competition. The pieces just fell into place at North Carolina. I can’t complain.”
Norris ran 8:35.46 in the 3,000 meters on Feb. 9 at the Spire Division I Invitational and 15:10 for the Penn State national meet Jan. 25 for his two best indoor performances. He clocked 31:32 in the 10,000 and 15:12 two days later in the 5,000 at the Mid-American Conference Outdoor Championships at Akron in May, finishing ninth and 12th, respectively.
“Indoors was pretty good in terms of providing base work,” Norris said. “We just pushed the strength-based work and speed when we moved to outdoors.”
It’s not a huge surprise, though, that Norris is excelling at the Division I college level. His dad, Nate, a 1993 graduate of Elyria Catholic, ranks No. 3 all time at Akron in the 10,000 with a time of 30:11.22. Nate Norris was a four-year letterwinner in track and cross country for the Zips.
“I’m definitely better suited for the longer distances,” said Norris, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 140 pounds. “I’m not known for a blazing kick. The longer the event, the more it comes down to a guts race. That’s where my true calling is. My dad, too. That’s where he blossomed.”
Friday’s 27-man field is comprised primarily of athletes Norris doesn’t know, though Brecksville’s Rob Scanlon, who runs for the Iowa State Running Club, will be competing. Norris and Scanlon squared off in high school, the last time in the 3,200 at the 2012 Southwestern Conference track meet. Scanlon prevailed, 9:31.98 to 9:36.05.
Norris was a regional qualifier in the 3,200 in high school, but never advanced to state. His highest finish at regionals was eighth in 9:45.
“I want to enjoy the atmosphere,” he said of the national meet. “I want to get a feel of the whole championship experience. I want to have some fun and compete. Whatever happens, happens, but I want to do well. I think I will. I’m in pretty good shape so I’d like to see what I’ve got.”
While this is his debut in a national-level meet, Norris did run in a regional-level cross country meet in Terre Haute, Ind., last year.
“I can’t complain about my year,” Norris said. “It’s all fit together, coaching along with my class work. I’ve made the right choices. Everything kind of fit and we hit the ground running. I’ve been fortunate enough to stay healthy. I wouldn’t be going to this meet if it weren’t for all of that.”
Contact Paul Heyse at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
USA junior outdoor nationals
WHERE: Drake University,
Des Moines, Iowa
WHEN: Through Sunday
AT STAKE: Qualifiers will represent the United States at the Junior Pan American Championships in Medellin, Columbia, on Aug. 23-25. This year’s Team USA squad will look to best the 72 medals won by Team USA at the 2011 Pan Am Junior games in Miramar, Fla.
— Paul Heyse