By Ben Blanchard, Sports Editor
When senior Joe Stewart committed to Miami University his senior year of high school, he hoped to be a competitive runner in the Mid-American Conference. However, as Stewart grew over his time at Miami, his performance forced him to reevaluate.
"When I committed, I just wanted to come and put in my four years, make some conference line-ups, maybe medal at conference," Stewart said. "As I developed over the four years and it became more of a realistic possibility to compete at the national level, I definitely upped my goals and my focus."
Following struggles with mono his freshman track season and sciatica in his back his sophomore cross-country season, Stewart entered his junior year unknown to most national running observers.
"Coming into my junior cross-country year, I wasn't on anyone's radar. But after I finished eighth at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional, I started to feel like I could compete on more of a national level," Stewart said.
After this eighth place finish at Regionals, Stewart went on to finish 103rd at the NCAA Championships.
Stewart carried this momentum from cross-country into his junior track season, winning the MAC 10,000m title in 29:38.30 and taking second in the 5,000m with a time of 14:19.19. Stewart also won the 5,000m at both the Wake Forest Open and All-Ohio Championships.
This past cross-country season, Stewart took fourth in the NCAA Great Lakes Regional in 30:27.4. This made him the first RedHawk to qualify for the National Championship in back-to-back years since 2007-08. Stewart took 66th overall in 30:42.2.
"I'm really proud of both of my Regional races at Wisconsin," Stewart said. "There are 20-30 big schools with deep talent in that meet, so those finishes mean a lot to me."
This track season, Stewart has proven to be one of the nation's best. At the Stanford Twilight meet, a fiercely competitive meet that attracts the best collegiate and professional runners in the country, Stewart took eighth in the 5,000m in 14:04.4. Earlier in the season, also at Stanford, Stewart took third among collegiate runners in the 10,000m in 29:03.79. This was the fifth best 10k in the NCAA at the time, and is now the 22nd fastest in the nation. This was the second-fastest 10k ever ran by a Miami athlete, and ranks him fourth in the Midwest regional.
Stewart will not compete in the Kentucky Relays this weekend, as he and the coaching staff look to rest his legs before beginning postseason competition.
"At conference, my goals are to defend my 10k title, and hopefully take the 5k," Stewart said. "Second place stung last year. When I get to Regionals, all I care about is finishing above 12th to get to Nationals. If I make it to Nationals, I hope to be First-Team All-American in the 10k."
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Stewart plans to run both the 5,000m and 10,000m at Regionals so that he qualifies for Nationals in at least one of the two, but will only run the 10,000 if he qualifies for both races.
Stewart, a finance major, has a 3.85 GPA. He will begin work at as a marketing effectiveness analyst at Nielsen Holdings in Cincinnati after this track season ends. Stewart plans to continue running in his free time, possibly under sponsorship from a running shoe supplier, to prepare for a marathon.