Bemidji State track: Accomplished Preble striving for national championship
Zac Preble has his sights set on one goal: a national championship.
The Bemidji State senior has one last chance to prove himself as the best Division II decathlete at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Charlotte, N.C when opening events begin Thursday.
"I really hope to win it this year but there are four guys who are really good and I know it is going to be a battle until the end," Preble said. "If I do my best, I should do well."
Preble, a four-time Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference decathlon and heptathlon champion, is returning to the NCAA Outdoor Championships for the third straight season. His first trip as a sophomore was cut short by a foot injury and he finished fourth last year.
The Coleraine native returned to the track motivated following the injury-shortened season and used that setback as a learning experience.
"It really made me stronger and made me know what to expect and how to compete when it is 90 degrees out," Preble said.
Preble's humble and stoic personality is as genuine as the intense competitive drive he brings to the weight room and track throughout the year.
"If there's a game in it, he'll find it whether it's throwing a tennis ball or flipping milk cartons during dinner time," Bemidji State head track coach Craig Hougen said."He enjoys doing everything. If he just did one thing - discus or pole vault - he would probably get bored and not be so successful. He likes the challenge of doing everything."
The decathlon is an event that requires exceptional ability in 10 different track and field disciplines to be competitive with the elite at the national level.
The decathlon at the NCAA Championships is divided up into two days of competition. Preble begins Thursday with the 100 meter dash, long jump, high jump, shot put and 400 meter dash events. The competition closes Saturday with the 110 hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500 run.
"I really enjoy (the decathlon) and doing my best," Preble said. "When I finish knowing that I gave it my all, it's a really good feeling. I just have a drive to better in so many events."
That drive includes an intensive practice routine for about 10 months out of the year.
He trains for three hours in two to three events per day before heading to the weight room to work on strength and stamina.
Preble's competitive season begins in January with the indoor season where he specializes in the heptathlon. Then the outdoor season begins in March.
Competition is not much different from his days at Greenway High School.
"I did a variety of things when I was in high school," Preble said. "I was decent in the 400, hurdles and throwing events. It was a nice start."
Preble reached the state track and field championships his junior and senior years in three events. He capped of his senior year with third place finishes in the shot put and discus, and a second place finish in the 300 hurdles.
He came to Bemidji State and flashed his potential immediately. He went from averaging 6,200 points his freshman year in decathlon to 7,200 his senior year.
"That shows that he's been consistently better than anything," Hougen said. "The thing about the decathlon is you don't have to be great at everything. You could have a B-minus day in all of the events and that would mean you could have an A-plus plus day in the decathlon."
As a freshman, Preble won the NSIC Indoor heptathlon by breaking the conference record and a few months later he claimed his first NSIC decathlon title. It was the first BSU decathlon title since 1996.
He defended both of those titles as a sophomore in the injury shortened outdoor season and was named to the Division II All-Academic Track and Field team.
Last year Preble earned all-American honors and continued his dominance in the heptathlon by winning the event for the third straight season. He wrapped up the outdoor season by taking fourth in the decathlon at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
This year Preble was the NCAA Division II Central Region athlete of the year and completed the collegiate NSIC heptathlon sweep by winning it for the fourth straight season.
He went on to a second place heptathlon finish at the NSIC Indoor Championships and earned BSU's top athletic honor last month when he was named the Male Athlete of the Year.
Preble credited part of his success to Hougen.
"It took a lot of coaching to get here," Preble said. "When I came here there were five or six new events that I had never tried but I was interested in."
Preble excels at the field events and considers the pole vault, discus, shot put and javelin his best events. He is looking forward to the final opportunity to compete at the elite collegiate level.
"The competition there is going to be crazy good," Preble said. "There are really some amazing athletes and every event is really going to be a challenge."
Hougen beams when talking of Preble's potential, calling Preble a natural fit to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in two years if he maintains his training schedule.
It would be a challenge for Preble, who is moving into professional life as an estimator for a construction company in Grand Rapids. He is also starting a family with his wife and teammate Chelsea, who is expecting a child in the coming months.
As Preble laced up his shoes to begin practice last week at Chet Anderson stadium, he had one final thing to say before starting up his training routine.
"I just want thank the Lord for giving me all these physical gifts and blessing me for this wonderful opportunity," Preble said. "It's more than what I deserve."