For graduate student and Loyola mid-distance runner Jake Mazanke, it’s his last shot.
After he sat out the last spring season with pneumonia, Mazanke returned to Loyola to finish his last season of NCAA eligibility. And this time, he’s not holding back.
Mazanke’s final season shot off with the starting gun for the 800 meter race at the Baldy Castillo Invitational in Tempe, Arizona, on March 18. For this meet, Mazanke went solo, leaving his teammates to compete at the Stan Lyons Invitational in Indianapolis.
The 800m run is Mazanke’s race.
At the 2016 Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Indoor Track and Field Championship, Mazanke placed third in the 800m after posting a personal-best time of 1:53.35, which was just 1.09 seconds shy from a first place finish.
That third place finish has fueled his determination to finish atop the standings this season.
In the boiling 95-degree Arizona sun, with beads of sweat dripping down his forehead, Mazanke said he was determined to start his final collegiate season strong as he took to the starting line for the 800m race.
The shotgun blast rang through Mazanke’s ears as he exploded off the starting blocks. Stride after stride, Mazanke continued to gain momentum throughout the race.
As he crossed the finish line as the leader of his pack, Mazanke saw his run time — 1:49.06, a new personal outdoor best, and the second-fastest time in Loyola’s program history. The time also put him on top of the conference’s leaderboard for the event and the NCAA West region. Mazanke said the strong performance to star this last season at Loyola was a testament to all the hard work he put in during the offseason.
“I sat out last spring because I got pneumonia right before the outdoor season,” said Mazanke. “Running without a lung is pretty challenging … I had lost so much fitness that it was going to be super challenging to come back and try to reach my goals of making nationals.”
At one point, Mazanke wasn’t sure if he’d run this season at all.
“I went to my coach really last minute and brought up redshirting to come back, and we worked it out where he would allow me to come back… [which] was amazing.”
Mazanke said redshirting — writing off a season of eligibility to injury — has been an incredible experience so far, and his strong finish sets the tone for the rest of his season.
“The goal was to go out and get a mark that would qualify me for regionals, and while nothing’s guaranteed, regionals seem pretty certain at this point and that’s when it becomes make or break time for my season and my chance to make it to the national tournament,” he said.
Mazanke, a St. Charles, Illinois, native, said he’s hoping to achieve his career goal of reaching the NCAA National Meet in the 800m race this season.
“My overall goal this outdoor season is to make it to nationals and become an All-American,” said Mazanke. “I’ve never reached that milestone in my career and I feel like it’s definitely in the cards for my final season here at Loyola.”
Head coach Bob Thurnhoffer said he has high hopes for Mazanke and the senior class in their last season for the Ramblers.
“As we transition this season to our younger guys going forward, I really hope our seniors can make some noise as they close out their careers here,” said Thurnhoffer. “Whether that be at regionals or if some of our guys can get all the way to nationals … I really think they’re capable of big things.”
Thurnhoffer said Mazanke plays a critical role in the program.
“[Mazanke] has become the heart and soul of this team, and rightfully so; he’s the guy that everyone looks up to,” Thurnhoffer said. “He’s got immense experience and he understands what it takes to be successful and that has helped us develop the young talent we’ve brought in for the future.”
Mazanke has remained reliable for the Ramblers despite changing coaching staffs and general inexperience on the team with Thurnhoffer’s first recruiting class as they’re still adapting to the college level, but Mazanke said he wouldn’t trade his final season or his time at Loyola for anything.
“I can’t say enough about this program,” Mazanke said. “I’ve improved as a competitor, as a runner and especially as a student, and I think my time here has really set me up for the rest of life.”