Bill Jones has the second-best DIII 10,000 time.
Franciscan Athletics

This time last year, Bill Jones was anxious. Almost every second of every day was consumed by questions.

Am I good enough? Do I belong with the best runners? How will the race go? Should I set the pace or wait and react? Can I be a national champion?

These questions kept Jones awake at night leading up to the 2012 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

“I was thinking about it too much; I was so anxious and I couldn’t think about anything else,” Jones said. “By the time of the race I felt like I had already run three races. Not being able to sleep, it really bit me.

“I didn’t handle things the right way; I let everything get to me.”

Jones’ insecurities hindered his performance in big races on more than one occasion.

Running for Franciscan, a DIII university in Ohio, Jones finished 117th in the 10,000 meters at the 2012 championships. His final time was a full two minutes slower than his qualifying standard. In the fall, Jones entered the DIII cross country championships as the man to beat. However, he crossed the finish line in 77th place.

The spring semester has brought about change, physically and mentally.

“I knew I had to change some things,” he said. “I don’t know why I made such a big deal about it. I guess when you are not confident about it, you make a big deal about it.”

At an April meet at Bucknell, Jones challenged a national record. His 29:11.17 was the second-best time ever recorded in DIII and put him at the top of the DII and DIII national rankings and 11th in DI. Two weeks after recording DIII’s top 10,000-meter time this season, Jones was ninth at the prestigious Penn Relays in the 5,000 meters.

“Bill [Jones] always questioned himself against the top guys,” Franciscan track and field head coach Vince Oliver said. “He is a different runner this season. After last year, I looked him straight in the eyes and asked him what his goals were.

“And there was a method to our madness with his schedule. We wanted to put him in situations to prepare for Thursday. Building his confidence was important.”

Oliver admits to being more “motivator” and “challenger” than personal coach to Jones. He credits Franciscan cross country coach Dan Kuebler with implementing a plan to produce the school’s first national champion. Franciscan joined DIII in 2011.

“[Jones] has developed into a guy who can compete against DI competition,” Kuebler said. “He is much more controlled, more confident, more focused on what he needs to do. His results this spring have helped him realize he belongs.”

[Jones] is much more controlled, more confident, more focused on what he needs to do.
-- Dan Kuebler

Jones, a fifth-year senior and theology and catechetics major, will make another run at that national title on Thursday at the 2013 NCAA DIII Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Roger Harring Stadium at Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex in La Crosse, Wis. The track is familiar to Jones, a native of Green Bay and Marquette University High School. He will take the top seed into the opening-day 10,000 meters. Jones has the ninth-best time in the 5,000 meters, 12 seconds behind Central sophomore Eli Horton. The 5,000 will be run on Saturday.

The top-five times among 10,000 entries have each been recorded by seniors. The second-fastest time in DIII belongs to Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Aaron Easker, 22 seconds behind Jones’ 29:11.37. Calvin’s Dan Kerr, who owns the third-best time, was fifth at the 2012 championships.

“[Jones] has two options [on Thursday],” Kuebler said. “He can wait and make a push or he can jump out and set his pace immediately. He just needs to run his race and he will be in good shape.”

Kuebler and Oliver made sure Jones’ spring schedule was competitive.

“A runner of his quality, you have to get to meets with good competition,” Kuebler said. “It built his confidence and has prepared him for this week.”

“The biggest difference for me is my confidence level,” Jones said. “I didn’t perform to my standards at the last three national championships (two in cross country and one in track); I wasn’t mentally prepared to win. Things are different for me now. The race at Bucknell … running against DI guys … that was the toughest competition I have seen this year, so that gives me confidence going into [Thursday].

“All I can do is control what I can control, run my race and thank God for the gift he has given me.”

The DIII record in the 10,000 meters is 28:48.

“One of my goals this week is to break 29 [minutes],” Jones said. “I know I have a target on my back, but that is okay. I’ve run the race in my head a few times; [the field] knows my time, so it is kind of up to the other guys as to how the race goes. I see myself in front from the get-go.”