May 20, 2009

 

By Amy Farnum Novin
NCAA.com

Wis.-Oshkosh’s Willy Kaul may have been a latecomer to long distance running, but he certainly has not been a late bloomer.

The senior from Milwaukee, Wis., played soccer and basketball in high school, and ran sprints for the track and field team to keep in shape, but did not try distance running until his senior year on the advice of his track coach.

“I was always the guy who never got tired,” said Kaul.  “My track coach convinced me to go out for cross country my senior year.  I won a state title (Wisconsin H.S. Division II 5K), and ended up quitting soccer and basketball, and won another state title (2-mile) in outdoor track.  Since then, that’s all I’ve done is run.”

Despite bursting onto the scene in his senior year, Wis.-Oshkosh head coach John Zupanc was the only one to recruit the novice runner on the recommendation of Kaul’s coach, a former Oshkosh track and field athlete.

“Junior year is always a huge year for college recruits and I didn’t run, so the two state titles didn’t do much for me,” said Kaul.   “It’s been the best decision for me.”

Kaul, who won the 5,000-meter and anchored Titans’ first-place distance medley relay team at the 2009 NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships, has rapidly improved in the sport he is passionate about.

“Distance running, and endurance sports in general, it takes years and years to develop that overall base,” said Kaul.  “I jumped right into the workouts in cross country, and handled them just fine, and handled the distance just fine.   I made the transition to college running pretty quickly, but I’m still learning and I still have my setbacks.”

Kaul, who enters the Division III Outdoor Championships with the nation’s top times in the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter races, boosted his training as a sophomore in order to catch up so quickly with other top runners.

“I kind of skipped a few stages,” said Kaul.  “In my freshman year, I was running about 50 miles a week and in college terms that’s not a lot at all.  I decided going into my sophomore year that I wanted to run a lot, and jumped into high-mileage, 100-plus mile weeks.  I haven’t been very patient with my training.  In a sense, I kind of had to because guys who ran all throughout high school were logging 50, 60 or 70-mile weeks then.  I never got that.  This year is really the first year I’ve felt the benefits of everything.  It’s all starting to come together – I’m starting to last longer and feel better and stronger.”

Zupanc thinks Kaul is just now tapping his potential.

“He’s probably on his fourth year of good training where most college seniors have maybe seven or eight years under them,” said Zupanc.  “Willy is a young runner, and I think he has a really bright future ahead of him and a lot of growth yet.  I don’t think he’s come close to tapping the types of performances he might have a year or two or three years down the road.”

Kaul says he puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform well, and it obviously paid off as he was named the 2009 NCAA Division III Men's Indoor Track Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) after leading the Titans to a co-national championship in March.

“He’s a very emotional runner, and cares a lot about how he does,” said Zupanc.  “He wears his emotions on his sleeve, and that makes him a lot of fun to work with.  Along with the dedication, he’s obviously got a lot of talent.  He’s got a body that is built to be a distance runner – he’s a smaller guy and very light on his feet.”

As Kaul approaches his last collegiate meet – the 2009 Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships on May 21-23 in Marietta, Ohio – he  plans to make it a memorable one.

“Everything has gone by so fast – it feels like I was a freshman a couple days ago,” said Kaul.  “I’m just looking to enjoy it as much as possible.  I’ve won my national championships and gotten All-America accolades, and I just want to enjoy it this time.  Usually, I’m a nervous wreck the whole time.  I just want to have fun since this will be the last time I will be competing in an Oshkosh uniform.”