* Matt Strangio discusses his finish at the Clovis Invitational
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Matt Strangio knew that wherever he would go, his love of running would follow.
But when the Jesuit (CA) High School senior was taking official visits to potential college programs, it wasn't his only objective.
He also knew that happiness had to extend beyond running, and beyond what the sport -- which had given him so much -- could feasibly provide for him. So when it came down to making a decision on where he would spend the rest four years of his life, it was about one fact.
If I wasn't running, would I be happy here?
By the time he stepped foot on the University of Portland's campus, Strangio knew. And on Wednesday, during a signing ceremony at Jesuit High School's track, the No. 14 ranked athlete in MileSplit's Class of 2020 recruits, made that decision final, signing with the three-time defending NCAA West Regional champion Pilots.
Strangio signed alongside teammate Chase Gordon, the top returning 800 meter runner in California and the 10th-best half-miler in the country, who picked the University of Southern California.
"What's nice about the whole journey of finding the right place is that each place had a great program, great coaches and great guys on the team. Winning was important, but by no way was it the only factor. One of the main things I looked for was, 'If I wasn't running, would I still be happy?' ...that was Portland."
It should be said that Portland and head coach Rob Conner could be getting one of its best domestic recruits ever.
Strangio, No. 6 in the current MileSplit50 cross country rankings, is no doubt one of California's best distance runners, with a PR of 4:08.07 in the 1,600m, 8:47.97 in the 3,200m and 8:51.00 in the 2-mile. He's won three CIF Championships, including two in track and field and one in cross country. He's 10th all-time in the state in the 3,200m and 27th in the 1,600m.
And in cross country, he owns bests of 11:54.10 for 4K, 14:42.26 for 3-miles and 14:39.90 for 5K. He's going for his second straight Division I title at the end of the month and remains committed toward going after a national title at Nike Cross Nationals in December.
By year's end, he's hoping to be one of California's best ever. He's made it known that he'd like to become the first California distance runner to break the 4-minute mile and potentially go under 8:40 for 3,200m.
"Ever since my freshman year, we've done goal setting. And I said at the time that my goal was to break four in high school," Strangio said. "One or two guys chuckled -- of course, they're my best friends now -- but by track season, if we would have done that, they wouldn't have laughed. I've always been one to set high goals."
Strangio also visited Stanford, NAU and UCLA. But after all of it, he came back to Portland. Conner presented a very significant scholarship package to Strangio -- higher than any other school -- but more than that, Strangio believed in Conner's attitude toward him.
"I felt that even if I didn't go there, he (Conner) was in it for me throughout all of this, even when I was like, 'I might go to another school.' That was big."
A lot of variables fit for Strangio, too. The University of Portland has a great campus and the student body wasn't overwhelming, just under 5,000 students enrolled. It was a Roman Catholic institution, just like Jesuit.
And there was also this ... Portland felt like it was becoming his second home.
Maybe not insignificant was the fact that Strangio had been to Portland often. As a sophomore, he qualified for Nike Cross Nationals and became an All-American in his first appearance, finishing 15th in 2017. He improved as a junior, posting an eighth-place finish.
And then over the summer, Strangio attended the Nike Elite Camp held at Nike headquarters in Beaverton. As with most elite distance runners, he holds hopes one day of a professional career.
Portland, he believes, is a great place to train and develop.
"On campus, everything seemed familiar," Strangio said. "It's Catholic and the buildings all looked similar, the style. It felt like home. It seemed like a really good fit because of that."
Wednesday was a big first step for Strangio. But he's still got a few more races left. And another season.
So his journey isn't over.
"I'm just trusting in the training that I've been doing," he said. "I just hope I'll be able to be there in the last K (at NXN) or in that lats 400m and have a really good shot at winning the thing."
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