BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After finishing fourth in the nation last weekend at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, Versailles alumnus Sam Prakel is hungry for more success.
Prakel, who runs for the University of Oregon, finished fourth in the mile at the national championships on Saturday with a time of 4:07.06.
“It feels great,” Prakel said. “It was nice having a big team there, too. The team took a lot of pressure off of the individual performance.”
With his fourth place finish Prakel helped guide the Ducks to the national championship with both the Oregon men and women winning the overall team titles. It was the third consecutive NCAA indoor national championship for the Oregon men’s track and field team, who beat Arkansas by 23 points for this year’s title.
“It’s awesome,” Prakel said of the third consecutive national championship. “I can’t take it for granted.”
This year’s national championship felt even better than the last two, Prakel said, because he scored points to help the Ducks claim the victory.
“Felt great contributing to the team score,” he said. “It’s really special.”
Prakel, a junior academically, is a sophomore athletically for Oregon. He red-shirted during the 2013 cross country season and during the 2015 track and field season.
After dominating during his high school career with six individual state championships – two in cross country and four in track and field – it was an adjustment for Prakel at Oregon where the roster is filled with the nation’s best athletes.
As a college freshman he had some early success, making the NCAA indoor national championships as an alternate and then qualifying for the outdoor national championships in the 1,500 meters.
But with a really strong class coming in last year, Prakel was pushed like never before and ended up red-shirting for the really deep team. That was a learning experience, he said, and helped prepare him to compete this season.
“It’s definitely different,” he said. “It took some adjustment.”
Now after having had a strong indoor season Prakel feels like he’s hitting his stride.
In February Prakel ran a sub-four-minute mile, becoming the 17th runner in Oregon history to do so. His time of 3:57.95 at the University of Washington’s Husky Classic was eighth fastest in program history.
Two weeks later at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships Prakel ran the anchor leg of the men’s distance medley relay and helped the Oregon men qualify for the NCAA national championships.
At the national championships Prakel finished fifth in his heat for the mile. While his place didn’t automatically put him in the finals, his time of 4:07.76 was good enough to qualify.
“Made some tactical mistakes in that prelim but learned from it,” Prakel said.
Prakel’s time in the final improved to 4:07.06, putting him fourth in the nation and less than half a second behind the national champion, Virginia junior Henry Wynne who won the race in 4:06.63. Oregon sophomore Blake Haney with a time of 4:06.75 finished second and Penn senior Thomas Awad finished third in 4:06.97.
Also at the national championships, Prakel was given the NCAA Elite 90 Award for men’s indoor track and field. The honor is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s championships. Prakel, who is majoring in biochemistry, has a 3.97 GPA.
Prakel is taking a break this week, but the outdoor season is right around the corner and will begin in a couple weeks. His goal during the outdoor season is to run a regional qualifying time in the 1,500 meters and then make it back to nationals and help Oregon win the national championship.
“The focus is the collegiate season and trying to do the best we can in that,” he said.
While the college season is his main priority, he’d like to drop a couple seconds from his personal best to make the qualifying standard for the Olympic trials.
He thinks that’s within reach as he’s starting to hit his stride.
“I’ve been feeling really good in workouts, feeling more comfortable in races,” Prakel said.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.