Blugold cross country athlete looks to finish strong

The student athlete's success over past seasons places him as a top bid for the individual national title

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Blugold cross country athlete looks to finish strong

Darin Lau, a senior cross country athlete, is a top contender for the national individual title this year.

Darin Lau, a senior cross country athlete, is a top contender for the national individual title this year.

Photo by SUBMITTED

Darin Lau, a senior cross country athlete, is a top contender for the national individual title this year.

Photo by SUBMITTED

Photo by SUBMITTED

Darin Lau, a senior cross country athlete, is a top contender for the national individual title this year.

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In the culmination of his past four years as a cross country athlete at UW-Eau Claire, Darin Lau has stacked up a substantial pile of accomplishments and titles.

Lau, a senior math education student, is a three-time All American, qualifying for the Division III National competition each of his past three years on the team. In his most recent season, Lau placed within the top six in the nation.

So far this season, the Blugold has won all but one race he has competed in, each victory accomplished with greater than a 20-second lead on the runner-up competitor. Lau has been named the Division III National Athlete of the Week for his success twice in the past two months, and shattered a course record at the Blugold Invitational back in September by 14 seconds.

Last weekend at the Pre-Nationals meet, hosted by Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, Lau secured third overall, finishing less than five seconds behind the first-place competitor and top bid for Nationals.

Nevertheless, Lau said it took a minute for cross country to stick out as his top sport.

Growing up, Lau said the coach of his youth soccer league pointed out to his father that although Lau’s soccer skills were subpar, he didn’t seem to get nearly as tired as the rest of his teammates after a long game of running up and down the field.

This led to his father eventually signing him up for a handful of long distance races in his hometown of Eau Claire, where Lau said he finally began to see his potential in the sport.

“It didn’t take me long to realize this was a sport I’d most likely have success in if I pursued it,” Lau said.

Following his success in local races, Lau said he made the decision to sign up for his middle school cross country program in the seventh grade. Throughout his high school cross country and track career, Lau achieved first-team all conference titles each of his four years, became a two-time state champion and state record holder.

When the time came for Lau to choose a university, he said going local wasn’t something he was dead set on. Lau said the cross country and track programs happened to be appealing to him at Eau Claire, which led to his decision to remain to close to home.

“Honestly, just by coincidence, the city where I lived in just happened to have a program that I thought would really work for me,” Lau said.

Aside from Lau’s accomplishments on the course, the team captain said the team atmosphere of Eau Claire’s program has made all the difference in creating a positive experience during his time as a student-athlete.

“I still have distinct memories of the first time I walked on the indoor track as a freshman to meet my cross country teammates for the first time,” Lau said. “Each season was very different and it’s very easy for me to distinguish them from each other, because I was constantly losing great teammates and friends, yet simultaneously gaining different great teammates and friends.”

Callie Fischer, a senior teammate, said Lau has been a major contributor in keeping the team close-knit and committed to their goals.

“He is a super good teammate,” Fischer said. “A lot of the guys look up to him. He treats others well, and he’s always cheering for everyone and supporting them.”

Looking back at his past couple seasons, Lau said the highlight of his collegiate career was winning Nationals as a men’s team in 2015. The senior recalls being huddled up with his team in Oshkosh, anxiously waiting for the results to come up, and celebrating together when they first heard the good news.

“When we found out that we won nationals, the place just erupted with joy,” Lau said. “At the time, it was just so hard to process that it actually happened, bringing the first national championship trophy for the men’s team in school history.”

Despite Lau’s fond memories of past seasons, however, he said he still has unfinished business to take care of, as he aims for the individual National Championship title this November. Now that he has run the course, Lau said he feels he has what it takes.

“I’ve run the course now, so I have a better sense of appropriate race strategies that give me the best chance to win,” Lau said. “There are definitely some solid competitors that are in the title mix, so I definitely need to be on my game to take the title.”

Head Coach Dan Schwamberger said he has high hopes for Lau at Nationals.

“There a couple other runners that are of Darin’s caliber,” Schwamberger said. “But if he stays healthy and puts it all out there on race day, then it will be fun to watch.”

Overall, Schwamberger said he has enjoyed seeing Lau evolve both as an athlete, and a person.

“Each year, he’s steadily progressed from both a performance standpoint and also a maturity standpoint,” Schwamberger said. “He just really knows his body well and he is a really intelligent racer. I’m just very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him.”

 

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