It would be easy for Val Constien to glance at the list of the decorated steeplechase athletes who came before her at Colorado and be daunted by the expectations at next week's NCAA Championships.

Constien, though, is comfortable in the knowledge she needs to set her own path. And after the physical trials of the past two years, Constien is just grateful for the opportunity.

When the NCAA outdoor track and field finals begin Wednesday in Eugene, Ore., Constien will be one of six CU athletes competing among the nation's best, a group that includes Erin Clark (5,000 and 10,000), Makena Morley (10,000), Kaitlyn Benner (10,000), Elissa Mann (800), and Zach Perrin (5,000).

While there are plenty of storylines among the half-dozen Buffs headed to Oregon — Mann and Benner were teammates at Monarch High School, while Clark will enjoy the final run of a decorated collegiate career in her hometown — Constien's journey is equally compelling.

As a sophomore two years ago, she reached the NCAA finals for the first time despite the debilitating effects of a staph infection in her legs. Last year, she was forced to take a redshirt season due to a fracture in her foot that led to a stress reaction in her knee.

This year, Constien will be carrying the momentum of two consecutive career-best efforts in the 3,000-meter steeplechase into the championship field.


Advertisement

"I guess a year ago I started to come back really slow. Training really smart and keeping the mileage extra low," said Constien, a native of Edwards. "This winter I finally started to get a little more serious and was running a little more. Then outdoor started to come along and I started to feel really good."

Constien has continued to feel better as the spring has progressed. At the Pac-12 championships three weeks ago, Constien placed third with a personal-best time of 10 minutes, 2.78 seconds. She was even better last week at the NCAA West preliminaries, winning her heat and placing second overall while improving that new personal-best by nearly 15 seconds (9:47.97).

"I probably shouldn't say this, but I was surprised at (the preliminaries)," CU coach Mark Wetmore said. "She had run 10:02, and I thought a reasonable aspiration, if the race was going and the conditions were good, was under 10, 9:55 or 9:56. But she was almost 10 seconds faster than that.

"She made no mistakes, and the steeplechase is an event where there's a lot of room for mistakes. She was excellent on the dry hurdles. She was excellent on the water jumps. And maybe that was a race that was waiting in her to hit on all cylinders. It was a wonderful race and maybe our best of the whole weekend."

Constien is well aware of the expectations that come with being a steeplechaser from the University of Colorado. The event launched the careers of Olympians Jenny Simpson, Emma Coburn and Shalayla Kipp, all of whom won steeplechase national championships for the Buffs. Constien readily admits she has a long way to go before joining that exclusive club, yet the rapid rate of her improvement this spring clearly has her on the right track.

"There's definitely a deep history here at Colorado for steeplechasers, especially for women steeplechasers," Constien said. "But I kind of like to think of it as my own journey. If I start thinking about what other people have done, sometimes I feel like there's too much pressure. I try not to compare myself to the other women I'm following."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07