Story By Evan Oscherwitz
Dayton Carlson has made a name for himself as a prolific distance runner, but he did not have to travel far to find his home for the next four years.
Carlson, the 2021 Gatorade Cross-Country Runner Of The Year, will begin his collegiate track career at Arizona State, only 30 miles from where he began his meteoric rise to prominence. At Casteel High School in Queen Creek, Carlson was a force of nature, setting new school records in every middle-distance and long-distance event. He won state titles in the 800, 1600 and 3200 meters as a senior, and his time in the 1600 was among the ten best performances in the nation.
As a result of his dominant senior season, Division I schools were lining up for the opportunity to secure a commitment from Carlson. Ultimately, he chose Arizona State due to the favorable climate and the familiarity that came with being close to home.
— Casteel Cross Country (@coltsxc) May 1, 2021
“It was between Michigan State and Arizona State,” he said. “I went to go visit Michigan State over spring break and it wasn’t really the vibe that I wanted. I feed off of the sun here in Arizona and to see gloomy skies and super cold weather, which I’m not used to, was just really different.”
ASU could not have picked a better time to land a distance runner of Carlson’s caliber, as no male Sun Devil has won a national championship in a distance event since Mason McHenry took home the 800-meter crown at the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championships.
Carlson has yet to decide on which distances he will run in college, but his times in the 800 and 1600 already rival those of his ASU teammates, and it is likely one or both of those events will be his specialty.
“I have a lot of options,” he said. “I was talking to [ASU assistant coach Patrick Henner] about that and it’s kind of just whatever I really enjoy. I’m just not sure yet.”
His times in most events are already up to NCAA standards, but Carlson feels as though he can still make significant improvements to his performance. Between his junior and senior year at Casteel, he was able to shave almost ten seconds off of his 800-meter time thanks to an intensive off-season training plan, and he has amped up his conditioning this summer in hopes of making a similar jump ahead of his first collegiate season.
“I’ve got to try and improve my training year in and year out,” he said. “Whatever coach Henner has me doing, that’s what I’m going to be doing. It’ll be a little bit of a change, but I think it’ll be a good change.”
While his training regimen has changed, Carlson is making sure that he does not deviate from the approach to competition that helped propel him to stardom at Casteel. He credits his high school coaches with teaching him to master the mental aspect of running, and he says that his newfound attitude has played just as much of a role in his success as any form of physical conditioning.
— Casteel Track (@CasteelTrack) May 16, 2021
“My junior track year, I got kind of down on myself,” he said. “I started working with [Casteel assistant coach Becky Mayhew] and she really helped me out. From there, I just went into races thinking ‘I got this, I can go out there and kill it, get first place.’”
It will be several months before Carlson makes his college track debut, but he has been making good use of his time. In May, he finished second in the Adidas High School Dream Mile, a road race featuring the ten best high school runners in the United States.
As the highest-rated distance-running recruit to arrive at ASU in a considerable amount of time, there will be high expectations for him, but Carlson has the natural ability and mental fortitude necessary to meet and even exceed those expectations. His past showings at state championships and invite-only races have proven that he can perform on the big stage, and if he continues on his upward trajectory, there is no telling what may lie ahead.