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East Ridge senior Nate Roese has set his sights on repeating as the state champion in the 400-meter dash, while breaking the state meet record and topping the Minnesota all-time record this season.

East Ridge's Nate Roese chasing history

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A year ago, Nate Roese set his sights on beating Austin Salargo. This year, he's chasing history.

Last spring, Roese, a senior at East Ridge High School, won the state championship in the 400-meter dash by beating Hopkins' Salargo, who was the defending state title holder.

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This season, Roese's goals are to repeat as the state champion in the 400, while breaking the state meet record and topping the Minnesota all-time record.

"Last year I really had a killer instinct in me to beat a person, Austin Salargo," Roese said. "This year I had to find a new motivation and decided it'd be that time -- that's what I have to beat. I've been thinking about that every day."

"We're setting the bar very, very high," East Ridge head coach Shannon Rainey said. "I know that's what Nate wants. I feel like if we do all the right things -- staying healthy, proper nutrition, flexibility, getting enough sleep -- it should happen this year. I feel pretty confident about that."

At last year's state meet, Roese won the 400 in 47.79 seconds, just .2 seconds shy of tying the state meet record of 47.59, set by Randy Melbourne of Minneapolis Washburn in 1993. The fastest 400 in state history was run by Quinn Evans of Mounds View in 2007, with a time of 47.18 seconds.

Roese said he believes he'll break both those marks this season - and it'll most likely happen at the 2013 state meet.

"Once you get to the state meet that's the time to prove it," Roese said. "There's so much competition there it brings out your best."

Roese's rise to the top of the 400-meter dash ranks has been dramatic. In 2010, he took just 13th place in the 400 at the Section 3AA Championships, finishing far from qualifying for the state meet. The next year however, 2011, he won the Section 3AA title in the 400 and went on to finish second in the state meet, to Salargo, prior to his championship season a year ago.

Rainey said Roese has been successful because of his undeniable work ethic.

"Nate has great focus and drive," he said. "He always pushes himself and pushes others. Even at practice, it seems like he's racing himself and the clock. It's never good enough. He just stays focused."

Lloyd Ness, the head coach of the East Ridge girls team, said Roese is a rare find.

"Nate is amazingly talented, but what separates him from everyone else is that he's the last one out of the weight room at night and he's just so tenacious," Ness said. "He never wants to lose. As a coach you get that combination maybe once in a lifetime -- that could be it."

In addition to a unique drive, Roese has an uncanny ability to excel at sprints and long-distance races.

This past fall, Roese proved to be one of the state's better distance runners, earning an All-State honor in the Class AA state cross country meet. In the 5-kilometer run, Roese took 17th place with a time of 15 minutes, 57.1 seconds. Roese is one of just a few cross-country runners who switch from running sprints in the spring to distance in the fall. The majority of cross-country runners compete in the 1600- and 3200-meter races during the track season.

"There's not another athlete in the state, for boys, that has Nate's range," said Ness.

At East Ridge, Ness works with the all the distance runners on the Raptors boys and girls track team, while Rainey focuses mainly on the sprinters on both teams.

Rainey said he's never trained a runner quite like Roese.

"It's definitely very unique," Rainey said. "Usually it's anaerobic or aerobic, but he can do either one. I feel like, if he trained for it, he could be a really good college miler. But, I think he's found something he likes and is very, very good at."

This past winter, Roese signed a National Letter of Intent to run track at the University of Minnesota. The Gophers are currently ranked 19th in the nation as a team. Roese said having his college choice in the bag is "a lot of weight off my back." He'll likely run the 400 or 800 in college.

"It feels great," Roese said. "I've been following them a lot. It's a very good track program and they really specialize in what I race in - the middle distances. I know a bunch of the guys on the team, I really like the coaches and I'm really excited to race for them. I'm really happy to be a Gopher."

Roese decided not to play basketball this year in order to focus on track. Roese said he spent a lot of time with Rainey, who is also the strength and conditioning coach at East Ridge, in the weight room this winter.

"I'm really blessed to have the coaches I have," Roese said. "(Rainey) is my strength coach and sprint coach and we've really bonded over the years. We're really close. I'm really glad he's my coach and I wouldn't want it any other way."

"He's way stronger than he's ever been in his whole life," Rainey said. "I kind of would have liked him to play basketball, because he would've been sprinting and jumping and running all the time, but we did get a chance to do more strength training, which could help in the long run."

Roese, a team captain, is one of four state champions in the four-year history of East Ridge. If he repeats in the 400 this spring, he'd be the school's first two-time state champ. Roese's success has garnered a lot of attention, but Rainey said it hasn't gone to his head.

"He's so humble," Rainey said. "Part of his gift is that he wins all the time, but you wouldn't necessarily know it. You can tell there are guys that think they're really awesome. But, you don't get that with Nate. He just goes about his business, works hard and wins. He's definitely one of the best leaders I've seen here. The way he treats people, his poise, the respect he gets - people look up to him - and he commands it. People follow his lead and I love that."

Roese has started this season strong. He ran the 400 in a time of 49.34 on an indoor track meet this past weekend at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls, taking first place in the event. His time was a meet record and nearly broke the fieldhouse record of 49.17 with high school and college runners included. At River Falls, he also had a personal-best time of 22.92 in the 200-meter dash - an event he took fourth place in last year's state meet. Rainey said a big focus this season is to improve Roese's time in the 200, which will ultimately help his time in the 400.

"I feel like we're already faster than we were a year ago," Rainey said. "If we keep training hard every week, doing anaerobic work and speed work, and if he can stay healthy, we definitely will be ready for that state meet."

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