Paige Pizer's rise in the middle-distance ranks has been a case of "I know I can" rather than "I think I can."
"It's mainly just confidence for me," the Portage junior said. "After DAC indoor, I was like, 'I can do this.' I'm starting to believe in myself, that I can be a champion, that I can be a top runner, and run with people like Elena (Lancioni) and Kristen (Homme)."
A victory in the 800-meters at the Duneland Athletic Conference indoor meet set Pizer on the fast track for her best season, one that ranks her tops in the area at 2:22.7, her winning time in last week's DAC outdoor championship.
"She's always had a real good work ethic," Portage distance coach Jay White said. "She's very determined, very dedicated, and she's kicked it up a notch this year. She set pretty high goals for herself to get to the state finals and she's done everything she could to have the opportunity to get there."
A captain of Portage's young distance group, Pizer is only in her fourth year of distance running after an ill-fated attempt at sprints in sixth grade and playing soccer in seventh. She ran cross country in eighth grade and didn't lose a race, nearly matching that level of success in track. Along the way, Pizer gained an affinity for the 800.
"It's weird because you usually think of cross country more as longer distances," she said. "I told (White) I really liked the 800, that it was the one I really want to focus on."
While Pizer is also a 5:17 miler, Kyra Ball's progress in that event has enabled White to let Pizer concentrate on the 800.
"The strength of her race is the last 150, 200 meters," White said. "We always talk about finishing strong and she's taken on that challenge. She's just lot more confident right now."
That was evident at last week's DAC meet, where Pizer helped the 3,200 relay to a strong second. In the open 800, she went to the front early and held off Chesterton's Homme.
"My relay exchange was 2:24 and (teammate) McKenzie Jones asked me, 'Do you think you can do more?'" Pizer said. "I said, 'I don't know. That was pretty fast.' Usually, I wait to see what other runners are going to do, but I tried a new strategy. I went out hard in the (relay) and decided to do it in the 800, too.
I thought I was going pretty fast and as it turns out, I was."
Pizer is now positioned well to make it to Bloomington in both events. She's also set her sights on the 31-year-old 800 school record of 2:18. She ranks third on Portage's career list in the mile and fourth in the 800. The 3200 relay is tied for second.
'"For a while, I was saying I didn't want to run in college," Pizer said. "Now that I see I have more potential, it's one of the main things I want to do."