Fearless and fast freshman

Cross country runner Darin Lau turned down scholarship offers to run for the Blugolds

Former state champion Darin Lau has turned in the fastest time for a freshman in school history this year. He will be running at nationals this weekend.

Photo by UW-Eau Claire athletics

Former state champion Darin Lau has turned in the fastest time for a freshman in school history this year. He will be running at nationals this weekend.

Story by Meghan Hosely, Copy Editor

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When then-high school senior Darin Lau ran and won the men’s 2-mile track and field event at the WIAA Division 3 state meet in May, UW-Eau Claire head cross country coach Dan Schwamberger remembers thinking Lau was “probably going to go somewhere else” after a year of recruiting him.

Little did Schwamberger know, Lau would brush off several NCAA Division I offers and a Division II offer to run at Eau Claire this fall just over a month after the state meet.

“I was excited because he’s a good runner,” Schwamberger said. “And he could help the team out.”

Lau, an Eau Claire native and Immanuel Lutheran High School graduate, said a large part of him always wanted to run at Eau Claire but what really got his attention was the men’s team placing ninth at nationals last year.

Even so, during the whole recruiting process last year, he said he kept an open mind about any type of school, regardless of divisions.

The freshman said his list of serious contenders from NCAA I schools included UW-Madison and the University of Minnesota. His lone offer from a NCAA II school came from UW-Parkside, and Lau had multiple NCAA III schools who showed interest in him.

But when it came down to it, Lau said Eau Claire’s atmosphere won him over.

Lau

“The scenery here was better,” Lau said. “The smaller community was better for me also. It just seemed like a better social fit.”

After a late commitment in July, Lau said he started practicing with his new team the week before classes started. Soon after, he fell into the routine of classes throughout the day, then practice at 3:30 p.m. every day.

Throughout the season, the freshman said he has been challenged in more than one way, but the most trying thing was going from a 5,000-meter race in high school to an 8,000-meter race. He also said running this season has been a good experience for him.

“A lot of the times, I’d be way in the front of meets (in high school),” Lau said. “But now it’s humbling to see runners better than me. I’m trying to get as good as them.”

However, Lau knew about where he would stand in the team based on last year’s results, he said. He set high expectations for himself and said he thinks he’s doing better than he thought.

His effort doesn’t go unnoticed. Captain Eric Knutson said Lau is an incredibly hard-working runner and “arguably the best freshman in the nation” at the DIII level.

“He’s there every day and does the little things to stay healthy that most people brush to the side,” Knutson said. “You can notice Darin isn’t doing that; he’s taking it very seriously. But he’s quiet about it.”

Lau has consistently been the top freshman runner crossing the line every meet. At the conference meet on Nov. 1, Lau became the fastest freshman in program history with a time of 24:59, breaking the previous record by three seconds.

Schwamberger said Lau running at the national meet in Ohio Saturday is a rare opportunity for a freshman to have.

Even with the success that came with his breakout season, Lau said he’s already looking for improvement, and he thinks he’ll have great success in his future seasons.

Schwamberger also said he’s excited to see what Lau can achieve in his remaining three years.

“His future is bright,” Schwamberger said. “He’s someone who will be very decorated and has talent to do amazing things.”

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