When Taylor Conroy first considered running track and cross country in college, the Marengo graduate’s overriding emotion was doubt.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t think I was going to run in college,” she said. “I just didn’t think I was good enough.”
Three years and five NAIA All-America honors later, Conroy’s doubts have melted like an ice cream cone in the summer heat.
“The joy of coaching her is that when you challenge her and push her, she responds,” said Jeff Barker, the track coach at the University of St. Francis in Joliet. “Every time we challenge her to get better, she gets better.”
The latest test was at last month’s NAIA national outdoor track and field meet in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Conroy and her USF teammates earned the eighth and final spot into the 4x800-meter relay finals with the Marengo grad running the third leg.
“It was rough,” she said. “I didn’t run the best I could’ve run.”
Barker decided to shuffle the runners for the final, moving Conroy to the final leg.
“We did an order we’ve never done before,” Barker said. “We wanted to do something different, and it really worked.”
With Conroy, a junior, running six seconds faster than in the prelims, USF took third in a personal-best time of 9:8.42. The time was more than eight seconds faster than in the prelims.
“[Barker] put me in the last leg to put pressure on me,” Conroy said. “That pressure pushes me to work harder.”
With this year’s third-place finish, Conroy has achieved All-America status four times in the 4x800, including twice during the outdoor season. During the recent indoor season, she won All-America honors in the 4x800 and distance medley relay.
Despite her impressive success in those two races, Conroy is more than an 800 runner.
“She’s really versatile,” Barker said. “She could run any event from the 800 all the way up to the 5K or [3,000-meter] steeplechase. Even if we wanted to run her in a 10K, I think she’d do really, really well.”
To Barker, the reason for Conroy’s diverse skills is evident.
“Her strength,” he said. “At nationals, we have to run rounds. With every round we run, she gets better, and she gets faster.”
Conroy credited her high school cross country coaches, RJ Meyer and Alan Garrard, with encouraging her to compete at the next level.
“They were really supportive,” she said. “They said they believed in me and that it would really help me. I’m definitely happy I did it. I can’t believe I wasn’t going to. I should never think I’m not ready to do something.”
Mascarella signs free-agent deal: In two years at St. John’s University in New York, Cary-Grove grade Wyatt Mascarella earned first-team All-Big East Conference twice.
This week, the school announced Mascarella, who recently completed his senior season, signed a free-agent contract with the Kansas City Royals organization.
Over the past two seasons, Mascarella batted .295 with 10 home runs and 65 RBIs, while 36 of his 99 hits in a Red Storm uniform went for extra bases.
Mascarella, who also played at McHenry County College, helped St. John’s to the regular-season conference title and the Big East tournament championship in 2018.
Saluki standouts: Cary-Grove grads Ricky Hurley and Nikki Freeman both represented Southern Illinois University’s track and field teams last month at the NCAA West regional.
Hurley, a senior, placed 37th in the hammer throw with a throw of 192 feet. At the Missouri Valley Conference outdoor championships, Hurley won the hammer event with a throw of 204 feet, 10 inches, placed second in the discus (170-6) and seventh in the shot put (57-1).
Freeman, a junior, placed 42nd in the discus with an effort of 153-6. In the Missouri Valley outdoor meet, she placed third in the event (165-3).
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.