APPLETON, Wis. — With his shy smile and aw-shucks demeanor, Josh Janusiak has all the earmarks of the boy next door.
Make no mistake, the Lawrence University cross country star is no wallflower. Janusiak has proven to a fierce competitor and a thoroughbred who devours the miles, leaving the competition in his wake. He captured his third Midwest Conference Performer of the Week award of the season a few days ago and stands poised to challenge for the league title on Oct. 29.
"Given the training this year, the effort put in by everyone and the positivity, I think this year has been very close to perfect," said Janusiak, a sophomore from South Milwaukee, Wis.
Janusiak holds the fastest time in the Midwest Conference over 8,000 meters at 25:47. He set the conference's fast time back on Sept. 23 and bettered his own time on Oct. 8.
"He's improved a lot," Lawrence coach Jason Fast said of Janusiak. "With his training and competing last year to get that experience under his belt, he understands what he needs to do to be great. Last year he had an opportunity to win the conference championship, and going into the summer, it's been his goal to bring home the individual conference title. It will be a big help in our team success."
Janusiak posted the highest finish ever by a Lawrence freshman when he took fourth at the MWC Championships in 2015.
"I'm really excited for conference, especially after how this season has gone," Janusiak said. "I've been pretty successful with my goals and what I wanted to do coming into the season."
Along with setting the MWC's top time, Janusiak captured his first individual title when he won Lawrence's Gene Davis Invitational at Reid Golf Course on Oct. 8. While Janusiak has clearly upped his game, he quickly gives an assist to rookie teammate Joe Kortenhof. A freshman from Portland, Ore., Kortenhof holds the third-fastest time in the league this season at 26:08.
"I didn't know Joe was going to be so close to me. It's been really beneficial to be pushed by a teammate who is exactly at my level," Janusiak said. "That and the whole team atmosphere, everything has been going really well."
In addition to those two, the Vikings also have Appleton native and two-time all-conference runner Max Edwards, who was eighth in the league a season ago. Sophomore Ben Schaefer earned all-conference honors after finishing 14th as a rookie in 2015.
"Joe has been a great addition," Fast said of Kortenhof. "He came from a very good high school program, and he's adapted well to the level of training and racing that is expected of him at the collegiate level. Joe and Josh have been really great training partners. They have pushed each other to do better things than either thought they were capable of."
With Janusiak leading a strong squad, the Vikings are looking to challenge favorite Grinnell College in a bid for Lawrence's first league title since 2011. Could history could repeat itself when the MWC Championships are held at The Beloit Club on Oct. 29? When the Vikings won the title in 2011, Lawrence's Sam Stevens was the individual winner.
"Most of what is in my mind when I'm thinking about the meet is team success," Janusiak said. "During the races, I'll think more about the individual possibilities."
With Janusiak, Kortenhof, Edwards and Schaefer running near the front, the possibilities look good for the Vikings.
"We'll definitely be in the mix for the title at the conference meet. A lot of it comes down to each person doing their part. Recognizing that even if Josh achieves his goal, we need four other guys to finish in quality positions," Fast said.
"Our conference championship comes down to one day. It's doing everything we can up until that day to be more ready than we've ever been."