She left high school as an accomplished sprinter as well as a strong cross country runner. However, 2014 Delaware Hayes graduate Emily Richards' run in college has taken a different course at Ohio Northern.

She left high school as an accomplished sprinter as well as a strong cross country runner. However, 2014 Delaware Hayes graduate Emily Richards' run in college has taken a different course at Ohio Northern.

"My coach, Jason Maus, encouraged me to try middle distance," Richards said. "He really wanted me to try the 800 (meters), but he didn't push it on me. He let me make up my own mind and it took a while because I just love sprints. But sometimes what you enjoy doing and what you can have great success at doing are different things."

Richards is proof of that, having capped her sophomore season by winning the NCAA Division III title in the 800 when she finished in 2 minutes, 5.88 seconds on May 28 at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. The time set a stadium record and was well ahead of runner-up Carmen Mejia of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, who went 2:09.66.

"The 800 challenged me in ways I never thought I could be challenged," Richards said. "We combined the training between sprints and distance, but I still think of the 800 as a sprint -- the toughest one."

Still, Richards wasn't pleased with her time after she had qualified in a school-record 2:05.54 during the Jesse Owens Classic on April 23 at Ohio State. At the time, it was the third-fastest time in Division III history.

"Most people would be satisfied, but I was a little disappointed in my nationals time because I know what I'm capable of running," Richards said. "That will motivate me.

"Next year I want to run better times consistently and I've talked with my coach about getting me into some bigger meets where I'm not just going against Division III competition. I want to compete against the top runners in the nation regardless of division and see where I stand."

Maus credited Richards' determination, dedication and competitiveness for her improvement.

"She's a fantastic young woman who is a joy to work with because she is so motivated and determined to work hard," Maus said. "She does a great job on the learning curve because she's willing to learn something new and is continually committed to take control of the situation and make it her own.

"She has indoor and outdoor school records in both the 400 and 800, was (an Ohio Athletic Conference) champion in the 1,500 and also has helped us in relays. She also is a vital part of our program in cross country, so she's pretty much gearing up to compete for us year-round."

Richards said she was confident coming out of high school, but that her confidence has grown every season with the Polar Bears.

"I didn't have a great cross country season as a freshman, but my first track season was pretty good and that led to more success and confidence in cross country last fall," said Richards, a three-time All-American in the 800. "That grew tremendously going into indoor track last winter.

"I want to keep pushing forward and get better in all of my events. I want to explore how high the ceiling goes, which is why we're looking at competing in bigger meets next year. I really never anticipated having this type of success in the 800, so it's a bit shocking."

In the NCAA championships, Ohio Northern totaled 10 points to tie for 26th behind champion Illinois Wesleyan (42) as 85 teams scored.

In the OAC championships that concluded April 30 at Wilmington, Richards won the 1,500 in a league-record 4:37.57 and finished first in the 800 (2:17.79) by nearly four seconds. The Polar Bears finished second (176.5) behind Mount Union (178).

"She's still learning things in the 800 and is a national champion, so that's quite a statement," Maus said. "She knows she can get better and she will. After winning the national title, she came over and gave me a hug and then told me how disappointed she was. I love that. We're just scratching the surface with her. More big achievements are coming."

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek