Janusiak on the run for second straight Midwest Conference title

Lawrence's Josh Janusiak, left, is the defending champion at the Midwest Conference Championships.
Lawrence's Josh Janusiak, left, is the defending champion at the Midwest Conference Championships.

Lawrence University cross country star Josh Janusiak has a football mentality heading into Saturday's Midwest Conference Championships.

To quote Oakland Raiders legend Al Davis, "Just win, baby."

Janusiak, a junior from South Milwaukee, is the defending conference champion and wants to make it two in a row at Jacksonville Country Club in Jacksonville, Ill.

"I feel very confident and have very high expectations for myself because of how I've been performing in the context of the rest of the athletes in our
conference," Janusiak said. "I do kind of expect to win, but anything can happen so I have to be careful. I think it's a reasonable goal to win."

Janusiak has been a juggernaut this fall with three victories and two second-place finishes in Lawrence's five meets. He also owns the fastest time in the league for 8,000 meters at 25:37.7.

"What Josh has done this year to make himself better is he's become better at winning," Lawrence coach Jason Fast said. "Winning a cross country race is hard to do. You don't have to beat a couple of people, you have to beat everyone. He's really honed that skill this year. That is something that has helped take him to the next level."

What should scare the rest of the competition is Janusiak is feeling pretty fresh after two months of racing.

"I've been feeling pretty tired all season until these last two weeks, which is what's supposed to happen," said Janusiak, who has won MWC Performer of the Week three times this season. "I'm feeling good lately. I'm excited to race."

Janusiak is attempting to become Lawrence's first back-to-back conference champion since LU Hall of Famer Eric Griffin did it in 1984 and 1985.

"He's the defending champion, has the fastest time in the conference and he hasn't lost to a Midwest Conference runner since last year at the (2016 season opener) Tom Barry Invitational," Fast said. "You'd have to be crazy to say that winning is not the expectation."

Janusiak, a philosophy major sporting a 3.94 grade point average, isn't the type to plot out a detailed race strategy, plan when he'll make his move or try to execute some grand plan.

"At the starting line I like to remain relaxed because it's so easy to be nervous. The best thing for me is to pretend I'm starting a workout," Janusiak said. "Once I get into the race, after mile one, it's easier to latch onto those motivating feelings and work to pass individuals."

One individual Janusiak will have his eye on Saturday is sophomore teammate Joe Kortenhof, who was sixth a season ago and named MWC Freshman of the Year. Kortenhof was slowed by injury early in the season but is now rounding into top form. Janusiak's dream for Saturday is a 1-2 finish by the Vikings.
"Totally," Janusiak said with a huge smile.

"If Joe were top five, I think that would a really great race for him," Fast said. "He's shown a lot of resiliency in coming back from disappointment early in the season. He's working out and racing better than he ever has."

Lawrence also has one of the top contenders in the women's race in senior and New Berlin native Hannah Kinzer. After taking 34th in the 2016 MWC Championships, Kinzer had a breakout track season and earned all-conference honors in two events. She has yet to lose to a conference runner in four events this fall.

"Track gave Hannah a lot of confidence coming into this year," Fast said. "If she hadn't had that type of success, it would have been hard for her to do this. To go from (finishing 34th last year) to be someone who could win, that's a big jump.

"I'm extremely proud of her. She's done so much and had to work through so much in her career. For her to succeed at this level has been a great story. It paves the way for others to do the same."