UT’s Worley to test his resolve in an NCAA 1,500-meter title shot

A shadow of mental anguish still looms over Sam Worley, to a certain extent.

He is still haunted in some respects by the memory of a disappointing effort three months ago at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship.

“I remember the feeling,” the former state champion at New Braunfels Canyon said recently. “I almost don’t know how to put it into words. I was not happy.”

Worley just didn’t have it that day.

One of the best high school mile runners in U.S. history showed up in College Station in March with significant momentum in his burgeoning career.

But after a lackluster showing in the preliminaries of the mile, he failed to reach the finals.

Remembered Worley, “I had worked too hard … I was too good of a competitor not to be in the final.”

In that regard, Worley said it represents a break through in his own mind to have qualified for the finals of the 1,500 meters outdoors.

Worley will toe the starting line as the only freshman in the finals tonight at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field.

He qualified Wednesday afternoon with a fourth-place finish in his heat and the fourth fastest overall time in the semifinals.

“That improvement alone has been really special to me,” Worley said in an interview Thursday afternoon. “I’m celebrating that. But, at the same time, I have a chance to do something special in the final.

“Now, it’s just a matter of going out there and competing and having the killer instinct to finish as high as possible.”

Athletes who will chase the championship in the 1,500 all held back some on Wednesday, with qualifying times ranging from 3 minutes and 47.47 secconds to 3:50.03.

The times are expected to be much faster tonight, but it’s hard to tell what kind of race will unfold.

Two years ago, the winner in the men’s 1,500 came in at 3:36.38. Last year, New Mexico’s Josh Kerr won in 3:43.03.

Kerr is the clear favorite to win tonight, having set the NCAA record in the event at 3:35.01 on April 20 in Azusa, California.

Worley, whose best is 3:40.00 from that same race, said he doesn’t know what type of pace he will see tonight.

“I have no clue,” he said.

Worley said he only knows what to expect from himself, and he thinks he can run under 3:40 if he feels good and the conditions are right.

“If it’s an honest race where I can run free and clear for a good portion of it, I think I could go sub 3:40,” he said. “But you also have to take into account, it’s the end of the season.

“It’s been a long six months of training. The body’s getting a little tired. So you never know until race day what you think you can do.”

Anyone who has seen Worley run as a prep athlete for New Braunfels Canyon understands the extent of his talent and the size of his heart.

He won the state title in the 1,600 twice, as both a junior and a senior. Last year, as a senior, he won the 800 and the 1,600 state titles on the same day at UT’s Myers Stadium.

Asked directly if he thinks he can win tonight, Worley said he does believe it is possible, but that everything would need to fall into place.

Two months ago in California, he could’t find much space on the track in a congested field, and he finished the fastest 1,500-meter race in collegiate history in 18th place.

This time, with a little more wisdom in the ways of elite runners such as Kerr, Robert Domanic and Sam Prakel, maybe he can find some open spaces. Maybe Worley can win, or, at least, find his way to the podium.

“I know it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be tough,” he said. “I’ll have to really work for it. But you know, anything is possible.”

If nothing else, Worley now feels more confident than he did a few months ago when he left College Station bewildered about his sub-par effort.

After all, his body of work speaks for itself.

In high school, he was a generational phenomenon who broke Reuben Reina’s 30-year-old area records.

In his third race in college, Worley set the UT school record in the mile.

He also won a Big 12 title outdoors in the 1,500 and now, as of this week, he has made it to his sport’s biggest stage in an NCAA outdoor final.

“Some of the hurt that I felt during indoor kind of evaporated a little bit (on Wednesday),” Worley said. “But at the same time, I feel I’m on a mission, I’m really hoping to get in the top eight.

“It’s just going to be about … competing as best I can.”