Conlon takes a great leapFARGO — Katie Conlon arrived at the University of Oregon last spring an experienced college runner, but that wasn’t the vibe she initially sent to teammates.
By: Eric Peterson, Forum Communications
FARGO — Katie Conlon arrived at the University of Oregon last spring an experienced college runner, but that wasn’t the vibe she initially sent to teammates.
“I must have had the look of intimidation on my face, because everybody here assumed that I was a freshman,” Conlon said with a laugh. “They were all shocked to know that I actually was a graduate student.”
The Jamestown High School graduate joined the Ducks last April for the outdoor track season after three standout years at Jamestown College.
Conlon was an 11-time NAIA All-American in track and cross country with the Jimmies.
“I kind of was shooting for the stars and thought about Oregon,” Conlon said. “There is really no better place to go run.”
This fall, Conlon has been one of the top runners on the Oregon women’s cross country team.
Conlon placed third at the season-opening Pier Park Invitational in early September. At the end of the month, she was sixth at the Bill Dellinger Invitational, helping the Ducks to a first-place team finish in that event. She was Oregon’s No. 4 runner at the Dellinger and she ran a career-best 17 minutes, 3 seconds on the 5-kilometer course.
Conlon is now running times more than 40 seconds faster than she did at Jamestown College.
“The biggest and best surprise we could have had. … She was kind of an unknown in terms of how good she could get and where she was going to fit inside the lineup,” said Oregon assistant coach Maurica Powell. “She is going to be an impact kid for us this fall.”
Oregon competes at the PAC-12 Championships on Oct. 27 in Santa Clarita, Calif. The West Region and NCAAs are scheduled for November.
“Still, I think that I’m in some sort of dreamland and it’s all just an illusion and I’ll wake up some time,” Conlon said. “It’s hard to grasp that this is my reality now. … It’s exciting.”
Conlon was a Spanish and Communications major at Jamestown College and was set to graduate early. That’s when she started to think about graduate school. She also knew that she would have athletic eligibility left at the new school.
Conlon graduated from Jamestown College last December after she spent the fall studying abroad in Australia. Conlon was drawn to Oregon because of its running reputation. She just wasn’t sure if she would be good enough.
“I really was skeptical,” said Conlon, who was a NAIA national champion for the Jimmies in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 2011. “I thought maybe I would be able to walk on and just get a sense of what it would really be like to be on a team like Oregon.”
Conlon consulted another former North Dakota track standout at the start of the process.
Former Fargo South runner Laura Roesler was already part of the Oregon track program.
“Laura is the first person that I contacted when I was thinking about Oregon,” Conlon said. “She was very helpful.”
Conlon said Jamestown College coach Jim Clark, who is her uncle, also encouraged her to make the move to Oregon.
“I think he was sad to see me leave Jamestown because he had kind of developed me as a college runner,” Conlon said. “But I think he realized that I had more potential and that I might be able to discover it at a place like Oregon.”
Clark said he felt Conlon was ready to make that jump and is impressed with her improvement this fall.
“She is just responding to the competition and really enjoying the heck out of life,” Clark said. “I’m kind of the proud uncle here, too.”
Conlon competed in one outdoor meet for the Ducks last season, but was limited due to injury. A big turning point for Conlon was this past summer. She got healthy and immersed herself in the offseason training program.
“We got to camp and it was evident right away that she was a lot fitter than she had ever been,” Powell said. “Now, she’s not surprising anymore that’s for sure.”
Conlon, 22, will also be able to compete for the Ducks in the upcoming indoor and outdoor track seasons.
“I think the sky is the limit for her going forward. She is really talented,” Powell said. “I feel really fortunate that our paths crossed in the way they did.”