Lakeside's Joseph Bariola continues to elevate his profile on the national stage.
Already a University of Missouri signee, the star cross-country and track athlete won a major cross-country race Saturday just outside of Houston.
The Ram senior took first place in the Nike Cross Regionals South meet in The Woodlands, Texas, qualifying for the Nike Cross Nationals meet in Portland, Oregon. Not only did Bariola win the race, he set a personal best of 14:52.9 in the 5K, trimming a massive 21 seconds off his previous best.
"To be able to go that fast, at a big PR, especially going sub 15, that's a really big feat for me," Bariola said. "To win it was a really big deal because I was just trying to qualify. I was just trying to get top five to go to the national race. To take it away 600 meters to go, it meant everything to me that I won that race today."
Bariola said his time at the NXR race Saturday was "shocking."
"I didn't expect to be that fast," he said. "But what I was expecting sometime in my season was a big PR. I was like, 'When is this going to come?' I never rushed it. I never lost faith. My coach told me it would happen at these last few races I'm doing. That's when I'm going to be my most fit. To be able to shave off 20 seconds was a big deal. It wasn't the easiest course ever."
The NXR South meet included the best runners from Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Mississippi. Bariola proved once again he can do it on the biggest stage, exploding over the final 600 meters of the race to finish first.
Bariola said most of the course went through the woods, but the final 400 to 600 meters of the race finished outside of the woods. Bariola catapulted into first in the final stretch, beating second-place runner Adam Burilson (14.54.2) by two seconds.
"They don't call it the Woodlands for nothing, you know what I mean?" Bariola said. "In Hot Springs, we train in the woods all the time. We train on trails. We love fire roads. I was in my element."
When Bariola popped out of the woods, he noticed the top three runners in front of him looked a little tired.
"I had my club coach there and he said, 'Joe, it's just time to go,'" Bariola said. "I take off. They couldn't match it as well. So I took off to the finish. I almost took a wrong turn. I got back on track, so I lost a couple steps. But I get on track and then head into the finish."
Lakeside head cross-country coach Jeff Haynes said Bariola now has the second-fastest time ever by an Arkansas high school cross-country athlete.
The Nike Cross Nationals meet is Dec. 2 in Portland, and Bariola holds yet another chance to perform in a giant race.
"There's not that many people that get to go to a race like this," Bariola said. "I'm just excited I'm having this experience. But I just won the South region. I'm in contention to go and do really good at this race. So I'm really excited. I'm not going to say I'm going to win NXN. But what I am saying is, I'm going to give everyone else there a run for their money."