Jared Pangallozzi had dabbled in baseball and soccer and took up cross country in his freshman year of high school in his hometown of Maplewood, New Jersey, with the hope of staying in shape to try out for the tennis team.
Eight years later, Pangallozzi wrapped up his track and field career at Johns Hopkins by earning the gold medal in the 10,000-meter race at the NCAA Division III championships Thursday night at North Carolina A&T’s Irwin Belk Track Complex in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“Going into my freshman year of high school, I couldn’t run two miles straight without needing to stop,” he recalled. “I did not consider myself an athlete at all. So to be a national champion is just so far from that. It’s wild.”
With his winning time of 29 minutes, 55.42 seconds — 12.47 seconds faster than runner-up Lucas Mueller of Carleton College (Minnesota) — Pangallozzi became only the second NCAA titlist in Johns Hopkins men’s track and field history, joining Andrew Carey who captured the 800-meter crown in 2014. Pangallozzi, who owns school records in the 5,000 and 10,000 events in outdoor track and the 3,000 and 5,000 in indoor track, has cemented his legacy as a pillar of the program, according to Blue Jays coach Bobby Van Allen.
“He is the gold standard,” Van Allen said. “We’ve certainly had a lot of really talented individuals come through here and do well and set the bar for what this program is going to be, but Jared just took that to another level, and nobody’s been able to do that on the national level the way he has, to be able to come in here and be considered the best guy in the country. So he’s the gold standard, and he’s now what I hope everybody else is going to try to work to emulate.”
Pangallozzi credited his path in cross country and track and field to coach Lisa Morgan-Richman, who persuaded him as a freshman at Columbia High School to pursue running. Morgan-Richman, now the cross country coach at Texas Christian University, said she recognized Pangallozzi’s potential after watching him practice with the team on a training hill in South Orange, New Jersey.
“He just looked so comfortable,” she said. “It looked like it was easy for him. He looked like someone I could build and groom into a great athlete.”
That decision looked better as he found his footing in the 1,600 and 3,200 races and began to see improvement as a sophomore.
“I just dropped my times a lot over the course of the year,” he said. “That’s when I was like, ‘OK, I have at least some talent.’”
He selected Johns Hopkins over Williams College in Massachusetts and Harvey Mudd College in California because he liked the balance between science and technology and liberal arts and because he enjoyed the camaraderie between the runners and Van Allen.
Pangallozzi did not participate in the 10,000 until his sophomore year, per Van Allen’s directive that prohibits freshmen from competing in the arduous race. But in his initial foray in the 10,000 at the Penn Relays in April 2019, Pangallozzi clocked a time of 30:14.02, which ranked second in program history to only Max Robinson’s 30:05.76 in 2013.
Despite slipping to 31:21.02 in the event at the NCAA championships in May, Pangallozzi said that performance at the Penn Relays convinced him to concentrate on longer events.
“You have so much time to think in the 10K,” he said. “I know for the 1,500, you make a move and suddenly you’re in the back of the pack, and it can cost a lot to jostle in such short races like that. In the 10K, you have so many laps and so much time to position yourself and figure things out.”
Alex Glavin, a graduate student distance runner, said Pangallozzi can drive himself to complete his training regimen. But Pangallozzi is also the type to sing pop songs or talk about topics of the day such as the cicada infestation, Glavin said.
“He’s not trying to leave anything on the table,” Glavin said. “He’s trying to be as good as possible, but he’s also a very genuine and fun guy. During the intense workouts, he’s very focused, and you know that he’s thinking about it and trying to get it done. But then on easy runs, he sings sometimes and we do long runs that are sometimes two hours long, and there’s always something to talk about.”
Van Allen said Pangallozzi’s primary strength as a runner is his stamina.
“His lungs are probably one of his best attributes,” Van Allen said. “The longer the race, probably the better for him. He’s real fluid in his mechanics and his form, but a lot of it is his overall aerobic fitness, and he’s kind of always had that. His speed has gotten better over these four years, and that helped him close out some races. But his overall strength is his pure endurance.”
Pangallozzi overtook Robinson’s school record with a time of 29:20.29 at the Virginia Challenge on April 16. And Pangallozzi participated in only the fourth 10,000 event of his career at the NCAA championships last week.
In that race, Pangallozzi was second trailing Connecticut College sophomore Matt Carter after the first 160 meters before Mueller and SUNY Geneseo junior Matthew Sayre moved to the front. Pangallozzi said he kept pace with them until the 7,000-meter mark when he surged ahead.
“I realized, ‘OK, if they’re going about the same pace as me, I might as well try to close this gap,’ with about 3K to go,” he said. “With 2K to go, I was officially in the lead.”
Pangallozzi said he broke away from the pack with 1,600 meters left.
“I remember my coach saying that I had 10 meters on second place, and I kind of just picked it up,” he said. “I stayed consistent with three laps left, and in the last 800, those last two laps, I really hammered it. Bobby was drilling into my head before the race to run a 2:15 in the last 800 because you need to finish strong, and I hit it exactly.”
Van Allen said he and Pangallozzi had crafted a race strategy built on his run at the Virginia Challenge.
“That’s how we had trained, and ideally it made sense to run it that way,” he said. “That was the plan — to wait until that last 3K to really start to make moves and sit back with them in sight and make them do a little more work and then go attack it. So that was the plan, but the execution was all on him.”
Pangallozzi said he was overwhelmed by emotions after crossing the finish line.
“The significance of it didn’t hit me until I was finishing,” he said. “I was like, ‘Holy [expletive], a national champion!’ It was just a lot of emotion and a lot of appreciation for what Bobby and the team have done for me and appreciation for all of the work that has gone into this, especially after the pandemic.”
Pangallozzi said he received more than 100 text messages from family, friends and Blue Jays alumni after the victory. But he still had the 5,000 race to run Saturday.
“After Thursday, he was like, ‘Well, I’m still here, and there’s still another shot at another title or All-American [status],’” Glavin said of Pangallozzi, who waited out a two-hour weather delay to finish fourth in a program-record time of 14:18.69 and earn his second All-America honor in three days. “So he was going to focus on that as much as he could.”
Since returning to Baltimore on Sunday, Pangallozzi has been preoccupied with moving his belongings out of an off-campus house he shares with fellow seniors Pat Dye, Conner Delahanty, Will Howe, Garrett Pitt and another housemate. He will graduate with a bachelor’s in computer science and applied mathematics in a school-organized ceremony Wednesday.
Pangallozzi, who said he is contemplating moving up to marathons, said he still does a double take when he looks at the gold medal.
“It’s just kind of crazy to believe,” he said. “If you had told me my freshman year that this would be the outcome — that in my last race, I would win at nationals — I wouldn’t have believed you. So it’s really crazy.”
Morgan-Richman, Pangallozzi’s former high school coach, said he has the makings of becoming an elite runner at the marathon level.
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“I believe he might just be scratching the surface of his ability as he’s grown and learned,” she said. “He’s totally a committed, responsible and super coachable kid. When you combine that with talent and will and knowledge, you can get anything out of anybody. He was special back then.”