NEW GLOUCESTER — Ask a coach what’s the best thing about a freshman and you might get a half-smile when he deadpans that they become sophomores.
That first year of college is supposed to give athletes a starting point. It’s a time of learning time management and self-discipline in hopes that maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to contribute in a year or two.
Which begs the question: What will Ben Miklovich do for an encore?
Miklovich just completed his first academic year at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. He’s occupying the early summer days and nights the way most 19-year-olds do, renewing old acquaintances while tackling marathons of movies and video games.
Oh, and he’s an NCAA champion.
The Gray-New Gloucester High School graduate etched that permanent bold print on his resume last Saturday. He was part of Wheaton’s victorious 4x400-meter relay squad at the Division III nationals on the campus of Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.
“It definitely was a big surprise to me,” Miklovich said. “We had a successful 4x400 all season, but the All-New Englands (three weeks earlier) were the first time we really ran together. We qualified for nationals at that race.”
Cecil Jeffrey, Merzudin Ibric and Mark Williamson joined Miklovich in the historic relay. It marked the first time that Wheaton, one of the northeast’s traditional powers in track and field, captured the gold in both the 4x100 and 4x400 at the same national meet.
“We’re all pretty close, so that makes for easier handoffs and easier transitions,” Miklovich said.
Miklovich, the Sun Journal all-area indoor track athlete of the year in 2009, ran the second leg of the relay.
Wheaton’s quartet entered as the top seed and won its preliminary race on Thursday in a time of 3 minutes, 12.41 seconds.
“Then we had a couple of days to rest up before the final,“ Miklovich said. “We actually had most of the week to rest up. That probably helped us. We had a few easy practices. Coach (Paul Souza) didn’t kill us.”
Saturday’s winning time was more than a full second quicker at 3:11.13, nearly eight-tenths ahead of runner-up Gustavus Adolphus.
Miklovich’s head-to-head battle with Adolphus’ Cole Carlson helped set the tone for the victory.
“We had the lead entering my leg,” Miklovich said. “The kid caught me and tried to pass me, but I got him at the end and we kept the lead the rest of the way.”
Wheaton established itself as a contender in the 4x400 during the indoor season. Miklovich ran the third leg in that relay with Cailean Robinson, Ibric and Williamson. The Lyons finished fifth in the national finals.
The outdoor relay sweep buoyed Wheaton to a tie for fifth out of 83 schools in the team competition.
Miklovich only dabbled with the 400-meter distance in high school, focusing mostly on the shorter sprints.
He was Class B indoor state champion as a senior in the 55 and the 4x200 relay, finishing second in the 200. Miklovich notched the outdoor state title in the 200. His relay team was runner-up in the 4x100.
Recruited heavily by neighboring Southern Maine, Miklovich made a late decision to attend Wheaton.
“I was looking at Wheaton all along, but the cost is ridiculous,” he said. “I talked to the coach quite a bit, and when my financial aid package came through I ended up getting a lot of money. That was the only reason I could go.”
Miklovich isn’t the only national champion native to the area in the last decade. It’s a short list, however.
Justin Easter of Jay won back-to-back Division III titles for Bates in the 3,000-meter men’s steeplechase. Bates also has won multiple individual throwing championships over the years.
Anna Willard Pierce of Greenwood, a 2008 Olympian, won the Division I 3,000-meter women’s steeplechase gold for Michigan in ’07.
With three years to back up his lofty beginnings, Miklovich will spend only a month recharging his batteries.
“We’ll start doing summer workouts in early July. I’m working out all year,” he said. “In fall we have captains’ practices where we work out every other day and we’re in the weight room on the ‘off’ days.”
And if one medal is good, two would be better.
Miklovich competed individually in the 200 and 400 as a freshman.
“I did pretty well, just not enough to qualify for nationals,” Miklovich said. “One of my goals next year is to qualify and get in the top eight as an individual.”