FT. THOMAS – Former high school state champion John Michael Griffith made more history in his first season competing for Northern Kentucky University.
The 2014 Highlands High School graduate became the first Norse athlete to qualify for USA Track and Field Junior Outdoor Championships.
Griffith placed 11th in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in Eugene, Ore., June 27. He was one of 16 men under age 20 who qualified by finishing the event in under 9:32.00 during the season.
“It was by far the biggest meet I’ve competed in,” Griffith said. “It was awesome. I loved it.”
The freshman arrived on campus with an advantage, having trained at Highlands under Brian Alessandro, a former Norse runner. Alessandro ran for NKU under head coach Steve Kruse who is still at the helm. Griffith knew what to expect – much of the same training he endured in high school, with an increased level of intensity.
“It was great to see him slowly develop into the college mode during cross country season,” said Kruse. “Generally, when I bring a freshman in, I keep their mileage down. He ran a little more than was used to in high school. Once we got to the indoor season, he took right to it.”
Once the cross country season ended, Griffith took off. He excelled during his first indoor season and made history in the outdoor season. In his second outdoor meet competing in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, he finished second with a time of 9:25.97. A few days later he received an e-mail from USA Track and Field alerting him that his time in the Oliver Nikoloff Invitational at the University of Cincinnati would likely qualify him for a berth in the Junior Nationals. He competed on one of the nation’s most iconic tracks at the University of Oregon campus.
“Now that he’s gotten a taste for an elite meet, it is going to be different,” Kruse said. “When you’re at a meet of that caliber, you can’t help but be affected by it and excited to try and get back to an event like that.”
In his first season, Griffith set a personal best and NKU freshman record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. He placed third in the event at the Atlantic Sun Conference championships. Notably, he began training for and competing in the event for the first time in March.
After feeling the pressure of an upperclassmen to lead the Bluebirds, it was refreshing for Griffith to compete as just another member of the NKU team. Now that he’s shown what he can do at the next level, he knows that the bar will be raised next year.
“As a freshman, nobody expects you to do too much,” Griffith said. “Once you have some success, the expectations come. I’m ready to feel that pressure again.”
Griffith trained for the new event with jumps and hurdles coach Paul Longano. He received support from his teammates. Every freshman competed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at least once. Griffith enjoyed the camaraderie shared with his new teammates and is encouraged by his postseason experience.
“I really enjoyed running for a sport and running with my teammates,” Griffith said. “I’ve never felt this motivated to get back out there and run next season.”