Daniel Szucs isn’t one to sit back and hope when it comes to competing for the RDC cross-country running team.
Szucs believes in forcing the issue and making his opponents run his race.
“My strategy is usually to take off hard and see who sticks with me,” explained the 18-year-old from Lacombe. “I’ll run the middle part of the race with the group and then try to pull away again over the final two or there kilometres.
“I don’t like to run easy early. If I happen to take it out too fast and die then that’s a learning experience.”
His strategy has propelled the second-year member of the RDC squad into one of the premier runners in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.
He ran three of the five Grand Prix races this season, finishing sixth, third and fourth, he also joined the RDC team in a race against NCAA competition in Salem, Or. The season leaves him in a good frame of mind heading into the ACAC finals Saturday at SAIT.
“Individually I’m hoping to finish in the top three and win as a team,” he said.
Daniel placed ninth at last year’s ACAC championship in a time of 29 minutes 28 seconds. All three of his races this season have been lower, including a 28:30 clocking in his last race in Camrose.
“I’ve improved for sure since last year … not a big jump but during the summer I concentrated on the 1,500 and improved my speed and I feel I have better tempo this year as well.”
RDC head coach Kari Elliott likes what she sees in Szucs.
“He was so disciplined throughout the summer with outdoor track and into the fall. His work ethic and ability to tolerate a high volume plus his intensity has been huge factors in his success. He’s still young and will continue to improve.”
Elliott believes training alongside Devin Saunders has been a plus. So does Daniel.
“It’s been good for me to train along with Devin and Will (Cebuliak),” he said. “We push each other in practice and in competition we help each other by running together in a pack.”
Szucs was born in Mississauga, On., and moved to Lacombe when he was 10. He ran track and cross-country in junior and senior high.
“I played a lot of soccer, in fact all sports, and got more serious about cross-country in high school,” he explained. “I competed at the high school provincials all three years and placed ninth in Grade 12.”
He also ran the 1,500 and 3,000 in high school, with a fourth-place finish in Grade 11 in the 3,000.
The five-foot-10, 150-pound Szucs enjoys both running on the track and cross-country.
“I’m back and forth,” he said. “I enjoy cross-country in that you never know what to expect, it keeps you on your toes, while other times I enjoy the track where you just go hard as you can.”
He competes for the RDC team in the indoor season, running the 1,500 and 3,000. He was fifth in the 3,000 and sixth in the 1,500 in the ACAC indoor finals last season.
“I like the indoor season … I enjoy just competing,” he said.
RDC goes into the ACAC cross-country championships as one of the favourites in both women and men. The Queens are ranked second in Canada, behind Lethbridge, while the Kings are fifth with SAIT third.
Szucs is looking to upset SAIT in the provincials.
‘They’ve had a bit of a dynasty, but we’ve beaten them two of the three times we’ve met this year and in the lost we were missing a couple runners,” said Szucs. “I know we’re confident. Kari has done an amazing job.”
Elliott is also confident.
“I feel we’re positioned well to go for a double championship, but the competition will be stiff and it will require top performances from everyone. This week is all about focus and rest.”
The forecast Saturday in Calgary is for chilly weather with a chance of snow.
“I don’t mind the cold,” said Szucs. “I’d rather run when it’s colder than in the heat.”
The RDC team will also compete in the nationals in Grande Prairie and once again in the cold.
“Maybe Ontario and Quebec runners won’t be ready for it and give us an advantage,” said Daniel with a laugh.
Szucs is taking Business Administration and will be on hand for four to five years.
“I get my diploma here and degree from Mount Royal, but I’ll be here. With us becoming a university the degree could come from here, but one way or another I won’t have to move, which is good.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org