Ashland High senior Matt Miner has transformed into one of the state's top runners this track season. Now he has his eyes set on a state championship.

Since last season Miner has cut 25 seconds off his now 5A-best time in the 1,500 meters (3 minutes, 57.61 seconds). He also ranks first in the 800 (1:55.25) and third in the state in the 3,000 (8:49.9).

Ashland track coach Bob Julian believes Miner has made such drastic improvements by dreaming big and staying focused on what he wants to become.

"I think he's taken ownership of his running," Julian said. "He realized that if you keep focus on these things that you want to become and stick with it, it's going to eventually pay off. He doesn't run 100 miles a week like some runners do, but he's learned to bring himself up to the level to be a great competitor."

Miner ran for Julian in junior high, but didn't like it back then because of the physical pain and a lack of positive results.

Miner's dislike for distance running reached its peak during his freshman year during cross country season, but a pep talk from cross country coach Bob Julian Jr. put Miner back on the right track and he made the cross country state meet the following season.

"I don't know why I started but I know why I kept going," said Miner. "I realized that I had the potential to be really good at it and decided to learn to like it and I actually do now."

While his superb results on the track would have garnered scholarships from numerous NCAA Division I schools, Miner wanted a top-tier education first and foremost.

In the fall he will take his 3.98 GPA to Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school that doesn't offer scholarships based on merit. There he plans to study literature and philosophy.

"I knew I was probably going to be running in college but I didn't want that to be the only thing," Miner said. "I didn't want to go to college based on my running and I didn't want to have to only live in the running."

Julian Sr. hopes Miner continues his craft for many years to come and believes Miner can compete at a national level. In face, Julian thinks Miner could run in the Olympic trials someday.

"I think Dartmouth is going to have a nice package with Matt," Julian Sr. said. "I think they'll be very pleased. I think he's reaching levels right now which when they recruited him, I don't think they realized what they were getting."

Ashland distance coach Julian Jr. doesn't think Miner has reached his full potential yet and believes the sky is the limit of how far he can go with the sport.

"He's under-trained compared to most runners of his ability," Julian Jr. said. "He just does so many things. He got into Dartmouth, so he's an excellent student. He plays music. He's involved with different clubs. Running is just kind of a part of his life. If he wanted to put more into it he could really explore some different levels of running."

Miner will attempt to qualify for the state meet in the 1,500 and 3,000 at the Southern Sky Conference district meet next week, passing on the 800 even though he holds the state's best time. This is because at state the 1,500 and 3,000 are more spaced apart, giving him more time to bounce back than if he were to attempt the 800.

He doesn't want to set any records at districts. He just wants to qualify for state, which requires a top-two finish.

"I plan on just qualifying," Miner said. "State's the big show. I just want to run hard enough to get in. I don't want to kill myself for the state meet, so just do what I have to do to win."

Miner has a real chance at capturing two state titles this season. He says he would be satisfied without winning both titles, but has visions of earning hardware in the 1,500.

"The way my 1,500 has been going I can't say I'd be totally happy if I didn't win that," he said. "I know some of those guys in the competition and I know that I really have the speed to win it and I know that I have the mental fitness in the races to do it. I would really like to see a nice gold Oregon-shaped piece of metal for that."

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.