When St. Thomas More graduate Luke Julian found out he was coming home to Rapid City this season for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Track and Field Championships, it was a weekend to mark on his calendar.
Next up on that calendar is the Division II National Championships, beginning Thursday in Kingsville, Texas.
Julian, a redshirt freshman at Colorado School of Mines, hopes his return from Texas is as eventual as his trip from O'Harra Stadium.
He won the 1,500-meter run at the RMAC meet and is currently ranked second in the nation going into next week's preliminaries.
"Ever since I found out about conference being back home, I was really targeting that meet. I really wanted to show up for it," Julian said during a telephone interview last week. "Nationals is big, and other races were great to run faster, but conference was special on a personal level to come back home and do well."
Julian won five state titles as a Cavalier in track and field and three top three state placings in cross country. He's now a three-time All-American for the Orediggers in indoor track. He is the 2018 RMAC Indoor Freshman of the Year and 2019 RMAC Track Freshman of the Year.
He's looking to add more All-America honors to his resume, at the least, if not a national 1,500 title. He'll also compete in the 5,000-meter run.
"I'm feeling good. All season long my strength has been really good. I think I have an advantage against some guys as I am able to jump up to a 10K," he said. "We have also been doing some speed work lately, and the speed has been getting notched up some and my endurance has felt good."
Getting ready for last fall's cross country season wasn't that smooth, though, as he tore his meniscus in late July during some off-season training. He had surgery and missed a month.
He originally thought he would get a medical redshirt for cross country, but ended up competing. Despite battling through the injury, he finished 41st in the national cross country meet, missing All-America status by one place.
Julian said he was still only at about 60 percent by December, but managed to qualify for the for the indoor national meet.
His distance medley relay team finished third and he was also fifth in the 3,000-meter run.
"Getting fifth in the 3K indoors gave me a lot of confidence," he said. "Going into outdoors, I felt like I could compete on the national stage."
Julian opened the outdoor season at the University of Colorado meet in a strong field that included Division I runners. He would end up third and his time converted to 3 minutes, 42 seconds, which is still second in the country in D-2.
"I felt like I could run a really good time coming off indoors. It was a chance to establish myself in the 15 (1,500) and it worked out well," he said. "I was really happy with that, and I felt like I could get better."
He didn't compete for the rest of the season until the conference meet in Rapid City. The goal was just to not overdo the racing and taper a bit after a very busy indoor season.
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"This being my first year doing three seasons back-to-back-to back, we wanted to not push it too much. I wanted to focus on getting quality races in, rather than racing a whole bunch," he said. "It was really great to get the qualifying in that first meet at Boulder, so I can just focus on training."
In the 1,500 at the RMAC meet, he won both the preliminary run and the finals. In the first race, he took the lead early to get one of his teammates qualified.
In the finals, he wasn't supposed to take the lead early, but he didn't like the slow pace.
"I'm happy I did, but I kind of died down the home stretch. I still held on," he said.
He had a couple weeks to tune up for the meet in Turlock, California last weekend, where he competed in the 1,500 and the 5,000.
"We were hoping to get the school record in the 15, but I missed it by a little over a second," he said. "But I still ran a decent time, and I think it is No. 2 without the conversion. I was pretty satisfied with that."
At nationals, Julian will compete in arguably one of the deepest and most competitive distance fields of the meet, the 1,500. He said it is going to be a dogfight just to get into the finals.
"You have to take care of business there and hopefully we can get all three of our guys in," he said.
Julian ended up an Oredigger because of the program. He said he liked the South Dakota schools, but he was never 100 percent sold on them.
He was sold on Colorado Mines.
In Denver for a Major League Soccer game, Julian emailed the Colorado Mines coach who told him to come down and check out the school.
"When I got here, it was perfect, it was exactly what I wanted," he said. "It had really great academics and the team seemed great. It seemed like a good culture. It had everything. After a couple of months thinking about it, I committed there."
A two-time all-stater in soccer at STM, Julian is still a big fan of the sport. But he knew his future was in track and cross country.
"In cross country and track, you have objective times and you can tell a coach that you ran this time or that time in a meet, and he can see your potential," he said. "Whereas in soccer, you can't just say, 'Well, I'm good.'
"I actually played soccer longer than I ran, but in the end, I felt I had a lot of potential that I hadn't reached in running. It was something I wanted to continue to pursue and see where my ceiling was. If I can continue to work hard, some day I will reach that."
Likely, sooner than later.