Earning All-America honors is something that has eluded senior Erik van Ingen throughout his collegiate career. But on Saturday, years of hard work finally paid dividends.
The Binghamton University distance runner placed fifth in the men’s mile run at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship with a time of 4:01.25. As a result, he became a first team All-American yesterday, when All-Americans were officially announced. The top eight finishers earned first team accolades. Van Ingen was the No. 5 seed entering the finals. He almost missed out on the finals altogether, though.
Ten runners qualify for the finals — the top four finishers from each of the two preliminary heats, plus the next two fastest runners overall. Coming down the stretch of the second heat, van Ingen was in contention to finish in the top four. As he approached the finish line, he tripped and dove forward, barely edging out Boston University freshman Rich Peters by .03 seconds for fourth place. Van Ingen had the 10th-fastest time in the preliminaries. Six runners qualified from the first heat, so had van Ingen finished fifth behind Peters, he would not have earned one of the two spots reserved for the next fastest runners.
“I felt like it was like a lottery — we might all as well have picked names out of a hat,” van Ingen said about the preliminaries. “I came to the line and another competitor swung out to get a free running lane, and didn’t bump into me but kind of cut me off, and I started to stumble at that point, I stumbled across the line and barely made it. I could see guys to the left but it was hard to see exactly how many, it was so close. I wasn’t really sure if I got it or not. I’m really glad I did get it because it would’ve just been really frustrating.”
Van Ingen, Binghamton’s only qualifier for the meet, earned four team points. Binghamton finished tied for 46th in the team standings. A total of 65 teams were represented on the men’s side. University of Florida won the men’s team title with 52 points, while University of Oregon won the women’s title with 67 points.
Van Ingen is happy to finally become an All-American, but admitted he has his sights set even higher going forward.
“It feels good,” he said. “I finished statistically where I should have been. I was the fifth seed going in and finished in fifth place. I’m happy about it, no doubt, but I’m ready to improve upon that in the outdoor [season].”
Van Ingen will likely be competing in the 1,500 meter during the outdoor season.
In the mile final, van Ingen finished the first lap leading the field before eventually falling back. Van Ingen felt he could have run more efficiently, which would have put him in a better position to win a national championship.
“I went out to the lead and then by the halfway point I was toward the back of the pack,” he said. “It was all bunched up so nobody was too far out of reach, but I should’ve been a lot closer to the guys up front. When it came down to the last lap, it was just running trying to catch guys. At this level, I’m not going to be able to reel in guys from a large deficit, just because everyone is so good. I wasn’t right on the heels of the leaders when it came time to kick.”
Jumping out to the front out of the gate allowed van Ingen to dictate the pace early on in the race.
“I kind of wanted to take the lead toward the beginning just to make sure the pace was honest,” van Ingen said.
Van Ingen was less than satisfied at the end of the race as he wasn’t in a position to pass any of the runners ahead of him.
“I think down the stretch I was a little complacent because I knew I had fifth place wrapped up, but getting any higher than that was a bit of a stretch,” he said.
Being a senior, van Ingen has a lot of miles on his legs. However, he doesn’t think experience played a big role in his performance since it was his first appearance in an indoor national final.
“I don’t think I’m any more experienced than anybody else … This was my first time making a final at an NCAA championship,” van Ingen said. “Nobody is willing to give anybody an inch of space on the track. It was very physical and bumpy the whole way.”
Earning All-America honors caps off an impressive indoor season for van Ingen. At the America East Indoor Championship, van Ingen captured titles in the 1,000 meter and 5,000 meter. He was recently named Northeast Region Men’s Track Athlete of the Year by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches’ Association. He also finished a mile in under four minutes for the second consecutive year, when he recorded a time of 3:57.11 at Boston University’s Valentine’s Meet. That time is a lifetime-best for van Ingen and is also the fifth-fastest mile time in the NCAA this season.
Van Ingen is now Binghamton University’s seventh Division I All-American and the second BU track and field athlete to earn All-America honors. Rory Quiller earned All-America honors with a second-place finish in the pole vault in 2007 before winning a national title in 2008, Binghamton’s first and only D-I national title.