By Logan Stanley - MileSplit Correspondent
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PORTLAND, OREGON -- In the weeks leading up to Nike Cross Nationals, Matt Strangio had said this city had started to feel like home, both as a future landing spot for his collegiate interests and a place where he could flourish as a runner.
The first step in that process was signing with the University of Portland as the National Letter of Intent period opened up in November.
The next came on Saturday, as the Jesuit (CA) High School senior surged late at NXN and passed three athletes in the boys championship race at rain-soaked Glendoveer Golf Course to finish fourth in 15:08.8. It was Strangio's third consecutive time achieving All-American status, and the best finish of his career, after placing 15th as a sophomore and eighth as a junior.
He became the only member of this year's senior class to score three All-American finishes at NXN. He was one of five runners inside the top 10 to pass at least one runner in the final mile.
That list included Dakota Ridge's Connor Ohlson, who surged past seven athletes and finished fifth; Caleb Brown, who passed five and made the podium in third; Liam Murphy, who closed on three and was eighth; and Carson Belnap, who finished ninth and overcame two athletes in the final mile.
Strangio was the second fastest runner from California in the national championship race, behind only winner Nico Young (14:52.3) from Newbury Park. And amid swampy conditions, Strangio remained poised
He stayed in the hunt throughout, coming through the first mile in 4:42.4, four seconds off the lead and in sixth place.
"The downhill after 2K was pretty big for me," Strangio said. "I had kinda fallen back a little bit there, and was able to push. And then this final loop, that downhill -- again I had kinda fallen off -- I was just able to get my stride back and get back into my rhythm."
It wasn't until the homestretch, as he came up the infamous hill that looms large ahead of the finish, that Strangio switched into his final gear. He closed hard over the last 100 meters.
"I was able to kick harder than I ever have," Strangio said following the race. "They [Nike] say 'Finish on empty' ... I was empty. Oh my god."
For Strangio, the All-American finish is a fitting end to a successful senior cross country season. This season he ran the No. 2 time for 5K meters in California, only behind Young, with his 14:39.90 at the Capital Cross Challenge in September.
He racked up numerous wins in the fall, including winning both the CIF Sac-Joaquin section and the CIF State Division I championship, his second straight. Strangio's lowest finish in any race on the season was his fourth-place nod at NXN, notable considering the level of talent he faced.
As well as the individual success, Strangio was able to help lead Jesuit to a section championship.
In all, the senior is pleased with how the season played out.
"The team did amazing," Strangio said. "We're so, so proud of this season as a collective, and I think it definitely was the best one of all four years."
Looking ahead, Strangio has lofty goals for the oval.
His pursuit: Eclipsing the famed four-minute barrier in the mile.
But Strangio certainly has his work cut out for him, as that is a feat only 10 high school boys have ever accomplished, most recently with Reed Brown's 3:59.30 in 2017.
What're the odds he does so?
His top mark in the 1,600m is 4:08.07, which he ran at the 2019 CIF State Track and Field Championships as a junior. That time finished as No. 3 in California and No. 13 in the US. Brown ran 4:04.82 and Slagowski ran 4:08.28 in the mile in their junior track seasons, so history says it's within reason, if a little off his peers.
Up next for Strangio is a nine to 10 day rest period that will include no running. He'll run a few miles for a couple days before building up to 60-65 mile weeks during the track season.