APPLETON, Wis. -- The first thing you notice about Lawrence University track and cross country star Josh Janusiak is the smile.
If you're a friend, the smile is certainly a source of warmth and comfort. If you're his competitor and you see the smile before a race, it is an undeniable harbinger of doom. It's like Janusiak knows something you don't, and that something is he's tougher, stronger and faster than you are.
As Larry Bird once quipped to the opposing bench as his game-winning 3-pointer was on its way to the hoop, "Game over, fellas."
"Whenever anyone sees Josh on the line, their plan for the race changes," Lawrence coach Jason Fast said. "He's going to be that way for the next couple of years he's here. I only see him getting better. There's not a lot that's going to be able to get in his way."
For the rest of the Midwest Conference during 2016-17, they have seen a lot of Janusiak's back as he runs away from them. He has become the preeminent distance runner in the league with a pair of conference titles already in his pocket. Janusiak will go for two more individual crowns this weekend as the Vikings compete at the Midwest Conference Championships at Knox College.
"I have the most confidence with the longest distance races, the 10k," Janusiak said. "My goal is to win that at (the) conference (championships), and my goal is to give it my all and maybe win the 5k as well."
Janusiak has been knocking goals off his checklist since last fall. During the cross country season, the sophomore from South Milwaukee, Wis., dominated the Midwest Conference Championships. Janusiak won the 8,000-meter event by a whopping 27 seconds in 25:42, which was the eighth-fastest time in Lawrence history.
"Individually, that was definitely my biggest goal for the cross country season. We had talked about it, not too much, but it was there all the time," said Janusiak, who rode the momentum of that victory. "It's very empowering. That kind of a confidence booster makes me feel very thankful for the way things are going. I know I am privileged to have consistently good races."
Janusiak put together a fine indoor season and raced to the victory in the 5,000 meters at the MWC Championships. His winning time of 15:18.88 was 12 seconds better than the runner-up. Janusiak has seen a mental development along with a physical progression as he has worked through this year and his career.
"At first it was more run and see what happens and do what the coaches tell you," Janusiak said. "As time went on, I figured out what feeling motivated me the best during a distance race, and I could return to that mindset. It's a state of being mentally relaxed but physically able to push yourself as far as you can go."
Janusiak found some inner reserves at the prestigious Hillsdale College Gina Relays in April. He raced to a time of 30:58.96 in the 10,000 meters to clip the school record of Lawrence Hall of Famer Jim Miller, which had stood at 31:01 since 1978.
"The 10k record I broke was more than I had planned," said Janusiak, a touch of astonishment in his voice. "I was happy, surprised."
One man who isn't surprised at Janusiak's achievements is Fast, and he attributes that to a variety of factors.
"We talked about it at the end of last year," Fast said. "Things that seemed like lofty goals his freshman year were now going to be very, very achievable. It was going to come down to his ability to believe that and work for it. Both of those things he's done an amazing job with."
The next step for Janusiak will be a berth in the NCAA Division III Championships in cross country or track or both.
"Going to the national championships and things that would come after conference are motivating me," Janusiak said. "At conference, it's more about place for me and less about time."
Fast certainly believes making that leap to the national stage is close for his star runner.
"We're already looking at it," Fast said. "He just missed out in cross country. I feel like a lot of these near-misses we're experiencing this year for nationals are things that he overcomes next year."