Ashland University senior Nick Hall has been through a lot – good, bad and in-between – to get a second shot at running at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships.
Hall, who placed 19th individually at the 2014 Championships as part of a 10th-place team finish, will run in the men's 10K race on Saturday (Nov. 19) at 8:30 a.m. in St. Leo, Fla.
"It's nice that I have two more seasons in track left, but I can't be relying on those," said Hall. "I'm just relying on all my patience, hard work and dedication to the sport. I'm really looking forward to seeing how I fare in a fair-weather race. I just want to prove to my family and friends and God that I can work hard and glorify Him in everything I can do."
Hall started his collegiate career at Lake Erie College, where he competed in two cross country seasons (2012-13) and an indoor and outdoor track season. That's where his first career turn took place, as his head coach was let go.
"That left me to a big decision on would I want to come to a very athletically-driven school like this and pursue my sports communication interest," said Hall.
Hall began his Eagle career with the 2014 indoor track season. By the fall of 2014, he was an integral part of the Ashland men's cross country team – a squad which posted the team's eighth top-10 nationals finish all-time.
Individually, Hall won the 2014 GLIAC championship by crossing the 8K finish line in 23:58.9.
"That was definitely, this program works, this training style works, everything about it just totally fit my type of running," Hall said. "I wasn't even really a pick to win that race, but it was just, once again, the patience and trusting myself in the training, and then, in the end, my mental game was the strongest."
That race was followed by a team-best sixth-place showing at the 2014 Midwest Regional in 30:47.8, then the 19th-place All-American nationals placement in 31:11.2, also leading the AU pack.
"Most of the country kind of looks at Ashland University as just a bunch of middle-distance runners, 800/milers," said Hall. "We're never really looked at as cross country runners, so getting 10th and showing people, 'Oh wow, they can run long distance and finish top in the country' was really cool."
Hall was set to compete in 2015 as a senior, but then another turn took place – having to miss the entire 2015-16 cross country/track season due to injury.
"It was a possible year to just gain an extra block of strength, and so I would come back as the 'super senior,'" he said. "With my dedication and my passion for it, I stuck to (head coach) Tom's (Scott) training and I stuck to my beliefs, and it's worked out this year."
There has been another key factor in Hall's return in 2016 – his new-found Christian faith.
"June 12th this summer, I accepted Christ into my life," he said, "with the help of some amazing teammates and friends that I've met through the sport and this incredible university. I vowed to glorify Him on a daily basis for the hard times and for the great times. Not having to solely rely on myself…and just giving praise to God every day, it's huge.
"It's really lightened my chest and given me something to work for every day."
This fall, Hall has earned U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) all-region and first-team All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honors. He also took first, ironically, at the 8K Lake Erie Invitational on Oct. 8.
His patience in slowly returning to "game speed" early in the season was tested.
"Nick is one of the hardest-working kids I have had the privilege to work with," Scott said. "He had some setbacks this summer. He didn't even race in our first meet and was behind the 8-ball compared to everybody else's fitness levels in the region. However, he didn't let that get to him. He was patient with the training and knew that it doesn't matter how the races go in September and October. He knew that the goal was to run fast in November, and that's exactly what he did."
"In regionals, getting second and seeing that race by race, everything had a meaning, everything had a purpose, and then that the patience and the hard work was inevitably going to work," Hall said. "Tom knew it, and I believed in the back of my head that it was just a day-by-day (process), and seeing it pay off was awesome."
As for Saturday's race, Hall said, "Obviously, I want to do better than I ever have, better than 19th. Seeing how things have been going, I don't see why top five is out of the question."
"He now has an opportunity to do something special at the big show," said Scott. "And like always, we just want him to go out there and be the best Nick Hall he can be.