Healthy Bartnik looks to contribute to young team

Aaron Bartnik finished first in his college debut, the 2013 Fall Finale.

Aidan Coleman

For most high school runners, making it to cross country state competition is a feat they’ll never achieve.

Then there’s Gophers junior Aaron Bartnik.

Not only did Bartnik make the state tournament three times, but he won it his junior year and placed third his senior year.

Bartnik may have had a lot of success running for Eden Prairie High School, but he doesn’t dwell on those accomplishments.

He had success in high school, but his collegiate path didn’t begin quite as smoothly.

Bartnik, who won the 2013 Fall Finale in his first college race, has dealt with several different stress fractures that have delayed his career.

He redshirted in 2011 and had to sit out the entire 2012 season due to injury. These setbacks forced him to change his running tactics in an attempt to make himself less susceptible to injuries.

“I’m still developing as an athlete. … I had to go through stride training,” Bartnik said. “That has kept me healthy ever since. My mechanics allow me to stay healthy as a runner, which I’m really excited for.”

Bartnik is a crucial piece for the Gophers this year, after the team graduated some very prominent runners from last season.

Bartnik has shown that he can be a big contributor when he’s healthy, senior Blayne Dulian said.

“He’s a hard worker,” Dulian said. “He’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing every day.”

Dulian said he has high praise for Bartnik, especially as a locker room figure.

“He’s a good overall locker room presence,” Dulian said. “He keeps people in the right direction.”

Head coach Steve Plasencia said he expected Bartnik to take on a leadership position on the team.

Bartnik, who has never competed in the Big Ten championship, said winning the Big Ten is his goal for this season.

“I’m most excited for the Big Ten cross country meet,” Bartnik said. “I’ve never [gotten] to compete in [the Big Ten meet] before.”

Though there might be extra pressure on Bartnik — now more than ever before in his collegiate career — he doesn’t seem to be letting the nerves get the best of him this season.

“I’m a lot more confident with myself as a runner,” Bartnik said. “I’m a lot more efficient in my stride.”