"Going into that next track season, I didn't want anyone to think I was a one-time guy. I didn't want to fall off the map."
It doesn't matter how fast Leo Daschbach runs.
Doesn't matter how many wins or awards he racks up ...or if he's ranked.
The Gilbert Highland (AZ) High School senior, who heads into the cross country season with big aspirations and is ranked No. 13 on the preseason MileSplit50, will always remember his first state title. And he'll always remember how he felt the following months, when a part of him wasn't quite satisfied with it.
"Going into that next season," Daschbach said of his summer training of 2018, which followed his PR of 4:10.64 for 1,600 meters, "I didn't want anyone to think I was a one-time guy. I didn't want to fall off the map."
You can't teach heart. And you can't just make an athlete get up at 5 a.m. in the morning and train day-after-day, much like Daschbach does now.
Part of that is a reflection of his environment: Living in Phoenix, Arizona, requires that kind of morning labor out of most endurance athletes.
But a larger side is his desire--his love--to continually improve.
There are the two-a-days he executes three times a week. The weekend long runs down the canals near his house. The weight room sessions to buoy all that work. All this is standard operating procedure for an athlete who keeps building cache in high school cross country and track and field.
"I think for me, I just fall in love with whatever I'm doing at the time," he said.
The 17-year-old, a blue-chip track and field recruit currently considering Oregon, Colorado, UCLA and Washington--and ranked No. 46 in MileSplit's Class of 2020 recruits--is never quite satisfied with a great performance because he knows he can always be one step better. A small sliver of doubt always drives him.
"I was pretty insecure freshman year," he said. "But I felt like the more and more I trained, the better and better I got. I grew more in confidence and grew more in determined. I'm obsessed with self improvement now. Back then it was pure stupid grit."
Daschbach isn't finished, either. He says he has more to prove this cross country season.
Despite claiming his first state title in the fall of 2017, he was runner-up at the AIA Division I Cross Country Championships last year. He could have called his season quits after dealing with the flue and ammonia at states. But he said he couldn't stand to miss it.
"For me, it was too late to give up," he said. "I was pretty set on giving it my all, or at least giving it as much as I could in that race. I tried my best to get healthy before that. I was hoping I could squeeze it out. But it just didn't happen. I still went out and competed. There was no way I wasn't going to compete at that race."
Maybe that was all good karma. Because this past outdoor season Daschbach was absolutely on fire.
There was a lights-out race in California at the Arcadia Invitational in April, when he finished sixth in the 3,200m in 8:51.09--third all-time in the state. And then there was an incredible mile effort of 4:03.98 at Brooks PR in June--second all-time in Arizona--where he found himself in a position to close in the final 100 meters.
But Daschbach's most prolific performance was at state in May, when he won three individual titles and a fourth "with the boys" on his 4x800 relay team.
"All those races coming together, it was the most best performance of my season," he said.
He started out with a 1:50 split in the 4x800 (7:42.16), then scored a 3,200m win (9:06.41) on Day 1. The following day he opened with a tough 1,600m effort (4:07.54) before coming back, rather miraculously, from eighth-place to first in the 800 meter run.
He closed in on every single competitor, including a teammate, to win in 1:54.04--not his best time, mind you, but probably his heartiest.
"I still watch that race sometimes out of disbelief," he says.
It's all added up to some pretty grand ambitions this fall.
Daschbach hasn't qualified for Nike Cross Nationals yet. He finished 19th at NXR Southwest last year. And it's traditionally a very tough region, with national-title contender Cole Sprout, along with potential qualifiers like Easton Allred, Cruz Culpepper, Connor Ohlson, Dylan Schubert, Mark Boyle, Mason Norman and Erik La Roux. Nine juniors finished ahead of him in 2018.
He's not necessarily a sleeper. He's probably the favorite to redeem an AIA Division I title in November. And he ran 14:52.60 at the Nike Desert Twilight Festival last September--it was the 20th best 5K last season.
But Daschbach wouldn't be Daschbach if he didn't hold tightly to those doubters.
"I have big goals," he said. "I'm working really hard. I'm very committed to this season. And I really am. I'm hoping to shock people."
Cross country will give him some time to reinforce a point: His strengths are far and wide in distance running.
"When it's cross, I'm not thinking about track. When it's track, I'm not thinking about cross. They're much different kinds of racing and different kinds of pain. I wouldn't say I see myself in either. I want to be the best in everything I do."
Dashbach wouldn't divulge mileage. But he's certainly kept a healthy average and says he's ready for the season to start. Last year he opened at the beginning of September and his first big meet was Nike Desert Twilight.
He credits much of his base now to the work put in over the offseason, a season, according to Dashbach, of "less intensity."
This summer, his team went to a cabin in Prescott for a week to train in the wilderness.
He used the time to tighten his craft, both mentally and physically.
"I haven't missed a day since July 1st," he said. "So yeah, I think for me it's about discipline and effort. And that's really from Day 1. That's how much I put in."
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On The Recruiting Path:
Daschbach completed his first visit to NCAA Division I Oregon. Of the visit, he said, "I really enjoyed it. I like the team, I like the coach. Eugene is a beautiful place to train. The facilities are top of the line."
He isn't on a timeline for a commitment, though. "I have no specific deadline. I'm going to take my time. I'll see what I like."