EJ Holland’s father, Neil, can remember a middle school project his son had been assigned that involved every student setting forth some career goals they would like to achieve. Being the aspirational youngster who already had a deep passion for running, EJ made it quite clear to his classmates — as well as his own family — what he wanted to do once he had gotten older.
“He said his long-term goal was to make the Olympic team,” Neil Holland recalled. “He had been running, but he’d already gotten a long-term vision. He’s now fine-tuned that to say he wants to go to a top Division I running program, so I think the thing that has impressed me most is that he’s coming up with these goals, it wasn’t us. It was EJ.”
Based on what the younger Holland did at historic Hayward Field this past weekend, D-1 schools are going to be calling sooner rather than later.
EJ Holland, who’s just about to finish up his sophomore year at Ashland High School, didn’t just find success at the OSAA Class 5A state meet this past weekend in Eugene. He went out and crushed it — winning both the 3,000-meter run and the 1,500, establishing a new state record in the 3K in the process.
“Looking back on it, when you’re in the moment it’s kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, you did this,’ kind of thing. Now it’s like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of great guys out there that weren’t able to do what I did,’” EJ Holland said. “It just puts things into perspective and it’s a little crazy still.”
EJ Holland’s double in Eugene, the first two state titles he’s won, capped a year-long process to get bigger, faster, strong after a freshman season where he announced himself to the state of Oregon on the high school level.
There was a plan put in place, set out by both EJ’s father and Ashland head coach Hans Voskes, to try and have the younger Holland be one of the top runners in the state by the time his senior year arrived but also do damage in the immediate future.
And when it came to the physical aspect, EJ Holland described there being times where he virtually had nothing left in his legs after running the 3,000 last season.
“If we could get the 1,500 time down (from the freshman year), the 3K time would come with it,” EJ Holland said. “It was really just that — trying to get the times down and moving up from where I was nationally ranked.”
When he crossed the finish line on Friday afternoon with a record-breaking time of 8 minutes, 26.44 seconds, he looked like he could have run a few more laps and it wouldn’t have been much of a problem at all as he improved on the previous record — established by Marist’s Matthew Maton — by four seconds.
There wasn’t any kind of split-second decision between first and second place between himself and Stanford-bound Crater senior Andy Monroe like what happened in the state cross country championship, either. EJ Holland broke away from a different Crater runner, Jantz Tostenson, and had all eyes on him as he cross the finish line.
“With about 150 meters to go I took a peek behind me and saw that I had broken him,” EJ Holland said. “That whole last 150 meters I just soaked it in. It was still like, ‘I just did this, I just did this,’ and it was pretty crazy. All the pain went away, everything, and all I could think about was that I had just won a state title.
“When I first saw I broke the record, it was almost disbelief. At first, I couldn’t believe that I had done it and it was almost unreal that entire night — and still kind of is now. I tell myself that I ran an 8:26, and it doesn’t seem real. I wanted to break 8:30 this year, and the whole year it wasn’t really happening. The 3Ks just weren’t going my way, so it was nice to have a really solid race and a nice outcome.”
As much adrenaline might have been pumping through his veins, EJ Holland also knew he had to get ready for the next big race, Saturday’s 1,500.
“You go to the award ceremony and you’re really excited, but you’ve got to get right back to business and get prepped for tomorrow because you’ve got one more race,” EJ Holland said. “You can’t just throw away the second one because you won the first one. It took a little bit and had to continue to re-focus that whole morning. ‘I’ve got one more race, I’ve got one more race,’ and it was a little bit hard.”
There might not have been any records in the 1,500, but the Grizzlies’ super sophomore made it 2-for-2 in his top two events on the biggest stage the state has to offer.
His final time of 3:55.61 was a little over a second off his personal best, but it was still one of the fastest times he’s run in the event all season.
The end result was a second state title to take back home to Ashland.
“Jantz, he’s the defending 1,500 state champion, so the guys I’m going up against are no slouches,” EJ Holland said. “It really just makes it that much sweeter that I was able to go out as a sophomore and beat all of these guys.”
Just because the high school season is over, that doesn’t mean EJ Holland is done running for the spring just yet.
He will be taking part in the El Jefe meet at South Eugene High School on Friday, and then possibly take part in the New Balance Nationals in North Carolina next month.
All of it is with the same goal in mind — getting better and reaching some of those lofty goals.
“He wants to make year-over-year improvements that will move him towards those goals,” Neil Holland said. “His times are good, but he’d like to make next year even better still and meet some other marks.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.