Working his way to the top: Bismarck’s nationally ranked runner Jake Leingang wasn’t a pack leader in his earlier yearsThere was a time, not long ago, when Jake Leingang was not considered one of the best high school distance runners in America.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
There was a time, not long ago, when Jake Leingang was not considered one of the best high school distance runners in America.
He wasn’t even considered one of the best on his team.
“I wasn’t expecting to keep with the sport,” Leingang said. “At first, I wasn’t really sure about it.”
But, the moment Leingang began dedicating himself to cross country was the moment he began his ascent to becoming a championship runner Bismarck High co-head coach Darrell Anderson said.
“He went from not caring very much to caring very much,” Anderson said. “Once you get on board with attitude, things get better. They certainly did for him.”
Leingang, a Bismarck senior, was just another runner in middle school. No one knew he would develop into a two-time Class A state champion or a high school all-American.
But, steady training once he reached high school helped him finish fourth at the state meet as a freshman and he hasn’t stopped improving since then, Anderson said.
“That was really his breakthrough race,” Anderson said. “From those moments on, he’s developed steadily into one of America’s best distance runners.”
Leingang is ranked No. 4 in the latest U.S. high school boys poll by MileSplit.com and has helped the Demons to the No. 20 spot in the national team rankings. They were ranked as high as No. 3 last season.
He enters Saturday’s Class A state meet at Dickinson’s Heart River Golf Course as the overwhelming favorite to win his third straight title.
Dickinson sophomore Jackson Binstock, ranked No. 2 in Class A, acknowledges that Leingang will likely be more than a few seconds ahead of him Saturday, but said that it is just fun to contend against a runner of his caliber.
“I want to compete with him,” Binstock said. “A lot of people want to be like him. He’s a good role model. Everyone wants to try and beat him or be up there with him, but it’s tough.”
Unlike many runners from across North Dakota, Leingang’s cross country season is far from over.
He and the Demons will attend the Nike Heartland Regional on Nov. 10 in Sioux Falls, S.D., and the Foot Locker Midwest Regional on Nov. 24 in Kenosha, Wis.
Leingang said he has goals of winning both races and getting back to both the Nike and Foot Locker national meets. He was second at both regional races last year before taking fourth at the Foot Locker national meet and eighth at the Nike Nationals.
“I’ll take either one, but it’s definitely going to be tough,” Leingang said. “The competition is crazy. There’s so many good kids out there. I think I’m ready. We’ll see how we do.”
Leingang’s presence on the national cross country scene has made him a prize recruit for the nation’s top college programs.
He said Tuesday he has narrowed his choices to two schools: Oklahoma State and Oregon, currently ranked Nos. 1 and 8, respectively, in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll. He may also still visit Wisconsin.
He hopes to make a decision after the state meet and possibly before nationals.
“It’s coming,” Leingang said. “I want to get it out of the way and get it done with.”
First things first though. Leingang is vying to become only the second Class A runner to win three consecutive state titles.
The other was legendary Williston runner Corey Ihmels, who went on to star at Iowa State, where he has been head men’s and women’s track and field and cross country coach.
Anderson can’t help but bring up Ihmels as he talks about Leingang, who he believes is just scratching the surface of his talent.
“He’s not where he wants to be yet,” Anderson said. “Somebody asked me, ‘What’s been his best race?’ I said, ‘He hasn’t run it yet.’”