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From D9 to D1: Liam Raehsler, Clarion to Penn State

Liam Raehsler embodies what a student-athlete should be about.

(Photo of Liam Rehsler during his high school running days. Photo courtesy of Clarion Photo by Mark Bettwy)

Liam’s accomplishments in both in cross country and track are astonishing, but what is even better about Liam is that he exemplified perseverance in athletics and excels in the classroom.

Liam went from D9 in Clarion, Pa., to D1 at Penn State University, and I am thrilled to share his story with you.

Liam attended Clarion High and graduated in 2015, and he emphasized that his high school experience had a positive impact on him both academically and athletically.

“Athletically, I was very happy was the coaching staff for both cross country and track,” Liam said. “Everyone did their best to develop an environment built on making everyone successful as possible. I loved almost all of my teachers, and they were the ones who nurtured my love for academia.”

Raehsler was a multi-sport athlete growing up playing soccer and basketball. He believes soccer helped him shape an endurance base for the demands of running.

“I played soccer since I was in first grade,” Liam said. “I was a midfielder. So, I think that’s how I developed my endurance. I also played basketball from fifth to 10th grade. I eventually stopped playing basketball so I could run indoor track during the off-season.”

As a young teen, Liam wanted to give football a try. But, due to his size, his parents wouldn’t let him play. The only sport that was available in the fall sports season was cross country, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“To this day, I am so happy my parents made that decision,” Raehsler said.

Physical talent is important to such a demanding sport like running, but encouragement from teammates helps you realize your full potential, according to Raehsler.

“While many people think running is all about becoming better yourself, I found joy in helping my teammates become the best that they could be,” Raehsler said. “It really is the best feeling when somebody who has been trying to get a personal best all year smashes their PR (personal record) by a significant amount then comes to thank you for pushing them.”

Liam had many influences in choosing Penn State, including his major, connections that he had at the school as well as being a perfect distance from home.

“In high school, I was dead set on pursuing Nuclear Engineering, and Penn State hosted one of the few nuclear reactors in the nation, so obviously that was a major influence,” Liam said. “I did end up switching to Computer Engineering my sophomore year, and I still haven’t regretted my decision for a second. Also, while I had a couple other division one teams trying to recruit me, I had a close friend I knew through the sport in high school who had already committed to Penn State, so that definitely influenced my decision a bit. Finally, I loved the idea of Penn State being close to home but not so close that I felt like I never left. It was the perfect in between.”

When talking about people that made a profound impact on his life, Raehsler held his high school coaches and his former training partners at Penn State in the highest regard.

“My coaches in high school were the ones that made me love the sport and want me to become better,” Raehsler said. “Coach D.J. Bevevino introduced me to the sport in seventh grade. While he was only there for a year, he could see something special in me and made sure I did my best.”

The other coach that has made a difference in Liam’s life is his high school cross country coach, Keith Murtha.

“Coach Murtha emphasized the importance of teamwork,” Liam said. “Without him, I would still be trying to do everything by myself and never accept help from anyone else.”

Raehsler believes his high school track coach, Ben Bevevino, deserved praise in his development as well.

“Ben saw the training regimen I had created for myself, and he said that this was a terrible way to train and reshaped it entirely,” Raehsler said. “I asked him in ninth grade if I could be a state medalist at some point, and he stressed the importance of following what he had to say. It paid off.”

Liam had excellent teammates both in high school and college, and he believes a few specific people were worth noting.

“My training buddy in high school was Chris Delaney,” Liam said. “Chris had already gone through a D1 program at St. Francis, and he pushed me to get better. More importantly, he genuinely cared about my running career and did his best to help me reach my full potential. Out of all the voices I heard during my final district championship races in track, Chris’s voice was the loudest.”

Liam also included his best friends on the Penn State track team as key sources of encouragement during tough workouts.

“Brady Bobbit and Jack Miller made the grueling workouts more bearable and even fun at times,” Liam said. “Plus, they are amazing athletes themselves and were able to push me while I was still on the team.”

The switch of majors at Penn State came from a required course Liam took late in his freshman year on Computer Engineering. He said he immediately fell in love with the subject.

“The idea of being able to build an entire program that can solve anywhere from average to everyday problems to complex challenges that no normal human can accomplish thrills and amazes me at the same time,” Liam said.

Liam faced a difficult decision between academics or athletics early in his college career, and that inquiry highlights one of the many challenges that student-athletes face every day.

“The transition from high school to college athletics was probably the most shocking and difficult stage of my life,” Liam said. “A lot of time is required to become successful at the college level, especially a big D1 school. Eventually, I came to a realization that I had to choose between an easier major or leaving the team. In a very difficult choice, I had to put my academic future first.”

After talking about making this difficult choice, Raehsler reflected on a couple moments that he will never forget in his athletic career.

“I will never forget track and field state championships my senior year,” Raehsler said. “Throughout the entire season, I had been trying to drop my 1,600-meter time down to a level to where I could walk on to the Penn State team. My time at the beginning of the year was 4:40, and I needed to run a 4:25. I ran 4:27 several times, so I was determined to hit 4:25. I was also running the 3,200-meter race, but I knew based off of my times in that race I could medal without burning up too much of my energy. I stayed calm and collected running a 4:27 in the 1,600 prelims which seeded me fourth. I knew I had a chance at medaling but also knew that I had to hit a 4:25 in finals or I would have no shot at running at my dream school. The next morning was the 3,200 championship, and the field was running much faster than I had anticipated. I knew I had to go all out. I came through the mile at 4:39, and my final time for that race was a 9:23. That race time was actually a good enough time to put me on Penn State’s team. After I crossed the line, I figured I passed out from exhaustion and happiness.”

Liam has earned my accomplishments through his outstanding athletic career, which includes a District 9 title in cross country his senior year along with being third-team all-state and placing in the top 20 in the state meet his senior year, being a two-time district champion in the 3,200 in track, a 1,600 race champion in track and being a state medalist in the 3,200 race with a first-team national elite time of 9:23. He also brought home conference MVP titles both in cross country and track during his senior year.

Raehsler’s biggest source of motivation came from setbacks due to injury as well as his fellow competition in District 9 to help him reach his goals.

“My biggest motivation for me was fighting through injury my freshman and sophomore years,” Liam said. “I was only able to compete in a couple races my freshman year and was out for about half of my sophomore year. Because of that, no one knew who I was in the district. I was getting beat by people who did not beat me in junior high. It was frustrating seeing people succeed while I was being left in the dust, so I trained as hard as I possibly could. Guys like Drew Bille, Tim Adams, Issac Wilson and Jake Mercer made me want more than anything to get back to the level I knew I was capable of. I trained hard my entire junior year and won a district title in the 3,200-meter race. It wasn’t a part of the plan that year, but at that moment I knew I could run with the best once again. Throughout all of high school, I used that as motivation. If I was on a long run and felt like quitting, I knew the best runners would leave me behind, so I kept going.”

When you think about a person that never quit towards reaching his goals, you should think about Liam Raehsler. Raehsler could have given up on many of the things he wanted to accomplish both academically and athletically. But, he was not going to be denied no matter what the cost, and that set him up for success both as a student and an athlete. Liam shows that you can accomplish great things despite facing some difficult challenges, and that is what Liam’s journey is all about.

Note: From D9 to D1 is a series run on highlighting current and former NCAA Division I athletes who hailed from District 9. To see past stories, click here.