CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Patience was the key for Christian Noble.

After years of dominating at the prep level for Mt. Vernon High School, the former record-setting Marauders’ distance runner literally had to take a step back to move forward.

After a successful freshman introduction at Lee University last season in both cross-country and track, Noble is finding his stride as a sophomore this fall.

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Last month, Noble captured the Flames’ first men’s cross-country individual title during the Gulf South Conference Championship Meet on Oct. 21, while the team clinched its third straight championship.

A big reason for his results, Noble admits, stems from his Marauders’ past, adapting to the grueling increase from 5K in high school to 8K and 10K in college, and earning All-American honors in the 3,000-meter steeplechase this past spring during his first track season at Lee University.

Training at his family’s new home in Texas in the summer heat was an unexpected positive as well, according to Noble, who struggled with Tennessee’s blazing temperatures as a freshman.

“Everything has put me at a whole other level this season where I’m running quicker,” Noble said. “I wanted to try to win (the GSC) last year as a freshman, but it didn’t work out. This year, I had run about 40 seconds faster than second place in our conference in 8K, so it was obvious that it was my race to lose. But you can’t predict cross-country. You never know who is going to show up on any given day.”

At the Jesse Owens Cross-Country Course in Danville, Alabama, it was Noble’s day as he posted a winning time of 24 minutes, 31.26 seconds to finish 12 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor.

“Christian ran a phenomenal race,” Lee head coach Caleb Morgan remarked after the event. “He kind of ran with the through two, two and a half miles and then really took off over the second half of the race.”

Not necessarily a surprise, however, as Noble was named GSC Freshman of the Year in 2016 in cross-country and was second at 23:50 during the Royals Challenge in North Carolina on Sept. 29 this season.

In high school, Noble shattered numerous records as a three-time sectional and regional champion, while winning a semistate title.

He wrapped up his senior year with a fourth-place finish at the IHSAA state meet for All-State honors. Along the way, he set a school record in the 5K with a 14:55 at the Delta Regional.

Noble competed in the Foot Locker Cross-Country National Championships in San Diego and the Nike Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In track, he earned his second sectional title and All-State distinction in the 3,200-meter run with a runner-up finale during the IHSAA state finals. His time of 9:04.71 topped his two previous school records. Noble’s placement was the best in program history, securing him a trip to the Midwest Meet of Champions in Ohio where he won the 3,200 in 9:23.36.

As a freshman at Lee, Noble helped the Flames win the NCAA Division II South Region Championship to earn an automatic berth to nationals. Noble was third in his first 10K regional at 31:49.9, a time he looks to improve on this weekend in Lakeland, Florida, when the Flames compete for the South Region title at Lakeland’s Holloway Park and Nature Preserve.

Q: As a sophomore competing at a such high level this fall, how much would you say you have applied what you learned from your first year to now?

A: My freshman year, coach had this plan that I had the potential to run as our No. 1, and I did a few races last year, but for the most part there were three of us that took turns as No. 1. But really, track season was my focus my freshman year because we go from 5K to 8K in college and to a 10K in championship races. That transition was a little tough. I knew I wouldn’t be fully prepared for it and to compete until my sophomore year like I’m able to now.

Q: Obviously, there was a learning curve last year, but you excelled during track season as well your freshman season, earning All-American status in Division II. What did that success do for your confidence?

A: From Year 1 to Year 2, coming off of track season with an All-American status in the steeple chase, it was a really big confidence boost. It let me know I could run in the front with those guys and in the top of DII. As a freshman to be one of the top freshman in the field was a big boost for this fall season. I think I have a top-10 time in DII in the 8-kilometers, so it’s been good. A lot of good summer training has led to this success.

Q: Was winning the individual GSC title your goal heading into the championship?

A: Conference was all about scoring one point for the team. That was really our main focus. It wasn’t really about posting that fast time even though it was on a fast course. More or less, I just situated until halfway and helped our team position and then made a move to get that one point for us. And it paid off.

Q: When did you make that move?

A: It was around 4K. It had turned into just about five of us and I knew I had a lot of strength, and if I just started pushing it, some people might be able to hang for a kilometer or two, but that last two kilometers, I was all by myself. One guy went with me, but he wasn’t there towards the end.

Q: While cross-country is often viewed as an individual sports, how important was it to keep the team streak going, winning a third straight GSC title?

A: It was a really big deal. We have only been an NCAA team for three years now, and we have won three conference championships now. We haven’t lost yet, so it was nice to keep that streak going and score the lowest amount of points we have since being in the GSC. It was Lee’s first individual champion, too, so it was a cool experience to share with the team.

Q: What’s it like for you to have two familiar faces on the team in New Palestine’s Seth and Caleb Eagleson?

A: Yeah, Seth is one of the reasons I went to Lee in the first place. He talked to me about it, and that’s where I ended up. He’s been a great training partner and friend.

When Caleb was coming here, we both got really excited because even though he’s new to the sport, he has a lot of upside and potential. He’s going to progress really well these next few years. He already has.

This is only his second year running cross-country ever and he’s already running faster times than guys I knew in high school that ran sub-15:10 in the 5K and sub-9:20 in the two-mile. Coach Morgan has taken Caleb and turned him into such a great athlete so soon. I’m excited to see what he does.

This is Seth’s last cross-country season, so we want to send him and the other senior out on a high note with a conference and hoping to win another regional title this weekend. It’s nice to have some Hoosier faces around.

Q: Obviously, conference was important, but how focused are you and the team to repeat as NCAA DII South Region champions and earn another shot at nationals?

A: This is where the 10K comes into play. Our freshmen have not run a 10K yet, and this will be where the strength of the season will be put to the test. I’m excited to see what they do. As a team we should be able to win it. There will be a lot more teams to put between us and the No. 2 team, which is the No. 2 team in our conference.

Hopefully, I can walk away with an individual regional title. That would be really special, but there is one guy (Ronald Cheserek of Saint Leo) that will put me to the test. He beat me earlier this season by two seconds and a kick, but we’ll see. It’s a different race.

Q: How vital is it to be adaptable as an NCAA competitor?

A: In high school, it was just about showing up to the race and pushing myself for the first mile and a half and then holding on to see what I can do. In college, though, I had to learn to be more patient, and that was the toughest thing my freshman year because I wanted to be up towards the front like it was almost all of high school.

It was hard for me to take that step back and realize I’m not going to be at the front, but if I remained patient and worked hard, the next year or the year after it would come. I’m getting there, but you have to learn to be patient from high school to college. Once you get to college, everyone is good. It’s who is going to be best that day?

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.