Leah Esposito

She'd never before even tried the event, but this past weekend Carroll's Leah Esposito ran the fourth-fastest time this season in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

She’s already an 18-time All-American.

Maybe, then, it shouldn’t be surprising that Leah Esposito won the steeplechase at the War X meet over the weekend at a cold, rainy Spokane Falls Community College -- the first time she’d ever run in the event.

“I honestly thought it was a lot of fun,” Esposito said. “It’s a lot different from any other race I’ve ever done. I really enjoyed every second of it.

“It was different and definitely challenging, especially near the end. But I think it was awesome.”

The Helena High product, now in her senior year at Carroll, had long wanted to try the 3,000-meter event, which features five tall barriers each lap. The last in the series is in front of a water pit. Concerns of injury, though -- unlike hurdles, steeplechase barriers are immovable -- had until now kept her wondering just how she’d do.

Turns out, pretty well.

Esposito traveled without the team to the meet as the Saints took a weekend off. And without a coach, without any prior knowledge or experience in the race, she finished in an impressive 11:01.10. In a field of 10 -- including NCAA Division I, II and III athletes -- she won by more than 43 seconds.

Esposito’s time was more than 17 seconds better than the NAIA-A qualifying mark, and is the fourth-fastest time in the NAIA this season.

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She said the barriers helped to break up the race and kept her mind off the pain of running distance. There was some trepidation ahead of the first water barrier, she said, but after that she settled in.

“Overall, I really loved it,” she said. “It was a ton of fun. I just really liked the whole experience.”

It took until her senior year for the Saint to persuade her coaches to let her give the steeplechase a go. But now qualified to run the event at nationals, the standout distance runner has got another task ahead.

“I would really like to run it at nationals,” she said. “And I am ranked higher in that than I am in the 1,500 actually. But, we’ll see. I’ll have to talk with my coaches.”

Follow IR sports editor Troy Shockley on Twitter @IR_TroyShockley.

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