University of Toledo long-distance runner Emma Kertesz will compete in the 1,500 meters, 5,000 meters, and the steeplechase at the Mid-American Conference outdoor tournament, held at Central Michigan, Thursday through Saturday.
Kevin Hadsell is a track and field coach who doesn't own a wristwatch. He does own a pair of running shoes, though his athletes were unaware of that until recently when he showed up to a practice at the University of Toledo sans his work boots.
Hadsell orders his top runners to take breaks from competition. In his leisure time, he hosts a weekly talk show on the student radio station.
"I'm not your conventional coach," he said.
Which might make him the ideal coach for the unconventional Emma Kertesz. Kertesz, the record-breaking long-distance runner for the Rockets, wasn't born to run. In fact, she didn't take up cross country until her senior year at Central Catholic and was fairly ordinary in track and field. Hadsell was drawn to her anyway, and the alliance has produced staggering results.
With Kertesz a threat to win three individual titles, the Rockets are eyeing their first Mid-American Conference outdoor championship in program history. The three-day meet, held at Central Michigan, begins Thursday. Kertesz, who will enter the 1,500 meters, 5,000 meters, and the steeplechase, is attempting to collect the award for most outstanding performer as she did in February at the MAC indoor meet.
"Hopefully by doing that I can gain a lot of points for our team," she said.
Winning conference titles, securing a lane for the NCAA meet, and qualifying for the Olympic trials were accomplishments beyond Kertesz's imagination when she left Central Catholic in 2008. She didn't even stand on the awards platform at the Division I state meet her senior year, finishing 14th of 16 runners in the 3,200. Compare that result with current NCAA rankings, where she's 17th in the 10,000 meters -- an event in which she set a MAC record 33:28.58 in April. Hadsell is withholding her from that race this weekend, as Rockets Megan Vogelsong and Ari Fisher are title contenders and Kertesz can inflict damage elsewhere. Additional title hopefuls are Bedford graduate Katie Bollin (high jump), Alexandra Afloari (triple jump), and Kaylin Blair and Megan Wright (3,000).
"It's funny," Kertesz said, to think her main goal entering college was to break 5:10 in the mile. She has reduced her time since then from 5:20 to 4:47. The defining turning point came last year, she said, when she finished in under five minutes.
"I was like, OK, this is really happening. I really just broke five minutes for the mile," Kertesz said.
Hadsell never envisioned Kertesz would improve so emphatically when he recruited her, though he grew intrigued after watching her explode during a run at a Central Catholic practice held at UT.
Kertesz, who graduated last weekend with a bachelor's degree in history, will enter the 10,000 at the NCAA preliminary rounds May 24-26 in Jacksonville. A top 12 finish will earn her a bid to the NCAA semifinals two weeks later in Des Moines. From there she'll prepare for the Olympic trials. It's a demanding schedule but one Hadsell took into account when he withheld Kertesz from all but three meets this spring.
"I kind of get antsy a little bit. Sometimes I just want to get out there and race," Kertesz said. "It's like, oh my gosh, I wish I could just get on the track because I just had this stellar workout. But we can't."
It's an unconventional approach, but it's working.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160, or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.