Cam Newton, Jimmer Fredette, Kemba Walker and Erik van Ingen were all student-athletes who excelled in the past year. But to many, one of those names may seem out of place, but don’t let it throw you off.
Binghamton University runner Erik van Ingen has not only become a well-known name around the Bearcat athletic community, but he has now also made a name for himself in the national spotlight of NCAA track and field with a stellar year.
During the 2009-10 season, coming off an injury, van Ingen was unable to find a comfort zone for much of the season. In working to return to his standard, he, along with his teammates, struggled through a large part of the year.
“A lot of the frustration was with the fact that the team was really close to being where we wanted,” he said. “It was just like we were one step behind.”
Slowly but surely, though, van Ingen and the Bearcats began to click and turned in a satisfactory season with late success. But the following year would prove to be a different story.
Running a four-minute mile wasn’t a foreign feat for van Ingen by the time he competed in Boston University’s Valentine’s Meet on Feb. 12; he had already broken the mark in 2010.
In 2011, though, he bested his previous time in the mile by more than two seconds with a time of 3:57.11, raising eyebrows that spanned further than just the northeast region racing community; his mile time was the fourth-fastest in the nation.
Having met the criteria of 3:59.00 or better, van Ingen automatically qualified for the 2011 NCAA Indoor Championships, the first of his many strides into the national spotlight this year. He also competed in the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in late May.
Following a fifth-place finish in the mile at the Indoor Championships in March, van Ingen finally became a first-team All-American, a feat that had eluded him for much of his running career. He wasn’t done there, though, as he earned first-team All-America honors again with a sixth-place finish in the men’s 1,500 at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships on June 11.
Despite carrying the 11th seed out of 12 into the final, he beat out some of the top runners in the country from strong athletic institutions including NCAA Indoor Champion Miles Batty of Brigham Young University. Van Ingen finished with a time of 3:44.71, just over two seconds behind Matthew Centrowitz of University of Oregon who won the event at 3:42.54.
BYU, Oregon, Binghamton? Yet again, one doesn’t seem like it should belong. But largely because of — and according to — van Ingen, it does.
“[My accomplishments are] a subtle way of sending the middle finger to everyone who says, ‘You can’t be a good athlete from an environment like [Binghamton]’,” he said. “It really ticks off some of the guys from big conferences and big schools to be beat by a kid who goes to a SUNY.”
In recent months, van Ingen has been consistently competing against such athletes in his ascent up the ladder of national recognition, something he says is only helping him to improve.
“It’s a lot different going from racing against three or four nationally prominent guys to going and racing 11 other guys who can all run just as fast,” he said.
With an extremely successful year behind him, van Ingen has his sights set higher for the upcoming one.
“First and foremost my goal is to bring home a national title,” he said. “I’d like to get on some all-time NCAA top-10 lists and I’d like to make the 1,500 final at the Olympic trials and then just see what happens from there.”
Van Ingen’s leap into the national spotlight has been a long awaited one. He has one year remaining at Binghamton — one he said he thinks will be a very big one.
“I’m feeling really confident,” he said. “This [past] year was a really big learning experience, and I think more than anything it sets me up for next year. I’ve had a full year of training and racing and was able to learn a lot from it.”