Building a legacy: LSU’s Michaela Rose becomes third runner in school history to win NCAA outdoor 800 championship

Suffolk, Virginia native has bigger goals this summer at USA, World Championships

LSU sophomore Michaela Rose celebrated her NCAA Outdoor Championship in the 800 meters on June 10 in Austin, Texas. PHOTO BY: LSU athletics

With the kind of outdoor season LSU sophomore Michaela Rose enjoyed, it’s easy to see why the Tigers may bolster their national track and field reputation.

Thanks to Rose, a native of Suffolk, Virginia, you can throw middle-distance into the program’s areas of success after she became the third woman in school history to win the 800 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships on June 10. She did so in 1 minute, 59.83 seconds – the fastest in the history at Texas’ Mike A. Myers Stadium – and became the first collegian to run three sub-two-minute times in the same season.

“With the addition of (assistant) coach (Houston) Franks in 2019, the program has really boosted itself,” said Rose, who set the No. 1 time in the nation and No. 4 in the world at 1:59.08 during the Bryan Clay Invitational on April 15. “They’re still some school marks being taken down, a lot of national marks put up by LSU mid-distance teams. I’m  grateful to be part of this group and the legacy that we’re creating. We’re not just sprints and hurdles and jumps sometimes. We also have a good distance program and I believe in the future we’re going to be contenders in all areas.”

Rose enjoyed a brief respite after the outdoor season with LSU before turning her attention, and training, to this week’s USA Outdoor Championships which began Thursday in Eugene, Oregon. A successful showing there would earn her a berth in the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary on Aug. 19-27.

“It’s been exciting,” said Rose, LSU’s school record holder in the 800. “I hope not to get too big headed.”

Rose was talking about her post-national championship life, where amongst her training for the USA and World Championships, she’s garnered an endless amount of congratulatory phone calls and text messages. She’s been the subject of local-girl-does-good stories in her hometown newspaper and television stations.

If they didn’t know Rose before, they certainly know her now.

“People were also congratulating me on campus,” Rose said. “It makes me proud, knowing you accomplished this for the people, teammates, (and) school. I asked my mom to help me respond to all of the text messages. You just want to get to everybody and to all of the nice messages.”

Turning disappointment into triumph

A year ago, Rose ran in the shadow of senior Katy-Ann McDonald during the cross country and track seasons, a veteran teammate she longed admired and patterned herself after in training.

Rose continued to show promise and finished ahead of McDonald at the SEC Outdoor Championship, giving LSU a 2-4 finish with a time of 2:02.49, before heading to the NCAA East Regional semifinals and failing to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Eugene.

She was named the SEC’s Freshman Runner of the Year, was a first team All-American on the 4×400 indoor relay team and second team All-American selection on the 4×400 outdoor relay squad.

“I had run track all of my life and not to meet all of my goals the first year was a blow that I took to heart and added fuel to the fire,” Rose said. “I knew I had the talent last year, but not to do it showed that I had more to learn and a lot more experience to gain.”

Franks, LSU’s cross country coach who also works with the middle-distance runners, commended Rose on her first season.

“Her freshman year she was really good,” he said. “We spent some time addressing some weaknesses. She was fast and mechanically sound when she got here but she needed to work on her aerobic side, strength side. Long term, if you’re going to be great, you’ve got to lay a foundation.”

LSU’s women were seventh in the 2022 SEC Cross Championships with Lorena Rangel-Batres leading the way in 17th followed by Rose in 22nd place.

She parlayed a strong cross country season into an undefeated showing during the indoor season in the 800, going 4-for-4 that included the SEC title with a time of 2:01.09. She led for a good portion of the race in the NCAA Indoor Championships but wound up third in a time of 2:00.35.

“I worked on building and improving in cross country and also the indoor season,” Rose said. “I wanted to prove to myself that I was a contender and showed up at nationals and got third. I knew there were some things that I could have done better in that race. We talked about better ways to prepare for the outdoor season, so I gave it another shot.”

Crowning achievement

While the 800 remained her signature event Rose was part of LSU’s 4×800 relay and ran the 1,500 meters.

She parlayed the third-place finish at the NCAA indoors to a perfect showing during the spring where she won all five races against fellow collegians. Her school-record time of 1:59.08 at the Bryan Clay Invitational was first among college runners, No. 2 in college history and No. 4 in the world.

“I fell off last 50 meters and she (professional Nikki Hiltz) passed me toward the end,” Rose said of Hiltz’s 1:59.03. “That gave me more motivation that the ends of my races were just as strong as how I started.”

Two weeks before Rose, who did not run the 800, anchored LSU to first in the Texas Relays with a world’s leading time of 8:20.69 along with teammates Rangel-Batres, Callie Hardy and Cindy Bourdier. She also helped the Tigers to a win the distance medley relay (10:59.86) and sixth in the 4×400 relay (3:31.80).

“It was a perfect build up,” Rose said to her spring. “Coach wants you to peak at the right time.”

There was just under a month in between the Brian Clay Invitational and the SEC Outdoor Championships at LSU’s Bernie Moore Stadium where Rose’s performance on May 13 reflected a competitor driven by a keen challenge.  

Rose bolted to an early lead and was never severely threatened, running away from the competition by more than four seconds for a winning time of 1:59.73. She broke the conference’s 19-year-old record in the event and turned in eighth-best showing in college history and set the facility mark.

“We all knew the times coming in,” Rose said. “Some may have had potential to go faster. We talked about securing the win. Approach the first 400 a little slower, and work at the latter part and make sure I had something in the tank for the last 200 which I felt like it helped. It made me more used to pushing at a certain point toward the end.”

Wire to wire NCAA champion

Rose ran first in both of her heats the NCAA East preliminaries, turning in a 2:02.01 to place first with teammate Cindy Bourdier also qualified for the NCAA Championships, finishing eighth in the NCAA regional meet at 2:04.70.

The Tigers also advanced in the 4×400 relay but once in Austin, they weren’t able to move past the semifinal round. They wound up 15th in the semifinal, leaving Rose with just the 800 to focus on – after running first in her semifinal race in a time of 2:02.01, ahead of Texas’ Valery Tobias’ 2:00.68.

“One of the things that helps her focus is she’s a woman of very strong faith,” Franks said of Rose. “That keeps her grounded. She’s a mature young lady with a good head on our shoulders. It’s very important to her. She has a great approach of wanting to put everything she has into her two minutes and if she can do that, then great things are going to happen. If somebody else can do it, she’ll shake their hand, but they’re going to have to put a lot into their two minutes because she’s about to put a lot into her race.”

Advancing to the final paled in comparison to that lengthy wait that was in store before the competition commenced.

With the 800 final scheduled for 9:14 p.m., Rose slept in until almost 9 a.m. followed by breakfast and 2 ½ hours of conversation with teammates about anything but track.

She was able to call her sister in Virginia, watched movies on Netflix, listened to music, read books and took part in a bible study.

“Nobody wants to think about a race all day,” Rose said. “It’s just nerves. I tried to stay off my feet, ate well and stayed hydrated. It made the experience better. Until it was time to go, I felt fresh and had prepared mentally by thinking about the race less during the daytime.”

There was a pre-race strategy with Franks to gain a better visual of what Rose’s final race of the college season was supposed to look like and then it was off to the stadium to warm up.

“We’ve taken the attitude if you’re going to beat us, you’re going to have to do something special to do that,” Franks said. “We’re going to make it hard for everybody.”

Rose didn’t back down. She was fast from the start, strong in the first 400 meters and unrelenting over the remaining 400 meters, leading from beginning to end to capture her first national title 2:00.31 to 2:00.68 over Tobias. She lowered her stadium record (2:00.31) from the semifinals with an equitable pacing of her splits of 58.5 and 58.47 seconds.

Not only was she the school’s first 800-meter winner in a decade, but Rose joined an exclusive club of three females from LSU to ever win the 800 outdoor title along with Claudine Williams (2:03.38) in 1999.

Amid the personal satisfaction and culmination she envisioned, Rose spotted her mother Marcia in the stadium where the two eventually shared a warm embrace the two won’t likely forget.

“I saw her running down from the stands,” Rose said. “To be able to hug her was everything. To share that moment, along with the SECs, it was surreal and made the moment even more enjoyable. To have a loved one there and embrace you knowing the work that you’ve gone through and put in to get there. It meant so much to me.”

Rose

Coach and I have gone back on it and analyzed the strategy and how I executed. What we need to work on.

Exciting to watch.

Race strategy-wise it was executed very well. I got out and had enough space between the other competitors without killing myself.

Time could have been better with better conditions (wind).

In Austin

“Oregon – weather was much different but grateful for that experience. I saw around what time I would have to be around for the 800. Coach said we would be much stronger to compete.

I like the heat anyway. I welcome the Texas heat at all times. Hydrate, eat well.

Practice – midway (12) throughout the week.

Getting into rhythm of warming up and running on the flattest areas. We had to find places to run (treadmill)

Semifinals – cooled off at night. Strategy was to qualify. Coach told me to go out aggressively. Wanted to make sure no mistakes were made.

48 hours to recover. Got treatment, plenty of electrolytes, flushed body of electac acid and mentally prepared myself for the race.

Lot of bible studies. Groups.

Nationals – I was very nervous. Had to pray with teammates. Showed up to the line and give my best.

4×4 – Messed up exchange and put me down. We didn’t make the final.

It was a great week overall. Mom (Marcia) and brother came to nationals and surprised me. I didn’t really know they were going to come.”

Both parents are coaches. Said they weren’t coming. Coaches knew.

Both Michael Sr and Marcia lettered at Auburn University under Dennis Shaver

With the blessings from God and the patience he’s given me, I’ve had a healthy season and knowing that I an capable fueled me for nationals.”

“That’s what you saw at nationals. I was able to cut through quick as I usually do but able to finish harder which is something coach and I wanted to achieve this entire season.

Houston Franks

“It was the result of two solid years of really hard work, talent and work ethic.

As a coaching staff we’re trying to make the athlete the best we can long term.

This whole year has been an amazing year. She’s gotten almost better every single week as we’ve gone from cross country until the end.

She was really good indoors. Was third in the country. She was a little disappointed in the moment but you see we were getting really close and if we continue on this path, its going to come together outdoors. Luckily she stayed healthy and it did.”

“For her to run the kinds of times she was running, you’ve got to come halfway really fast. There’s not a lot of people willing to do it to risk like that. It’s not a risk for her because we’ve been consistent running 1:59-2 minutes.

You sit around all day, you’re nervous. You’ve got to be at your best for two rounds and then you hold that for two weeks and go to another location and do it two times over three days. You have to stay at a very high level for a long period of time and it’s hard.”

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