Pietsch keeps on climbing

Seabury graduate, a former D-III champion, to compete in NCAA East Regional for Georgia Tech

Daniel Pietsch, a redshirt junior at Georgia Tech, finished sixth in the 400 meters at the ACC championships earlier this month. This week, he will compete at the NCAA East Regional in Tampa, Fla. GT Athletics / Danny Karnik photos

Daniel Pietsch’s meteoric rise in track and field has landed him in Tampa, Fla., this week.

Pietsch, a 2014 Seabury Hall graduate, is a redshirt junior at Georgia Tech. He will run the 400 meters, his specialty, in the NCAA East Regional on Thursday and the 4×400 relay on Saturday.

Pietsch started running in 2013 as a high school junior. He has climbed to state champion in 2014, when he ran the event in 48.85 seconds, to NCAA Division III national champion for Emory University in 2016 when he ran 46.92, and most recently, to a finalist in the Atlantic Coast Conference earlier this month when he finished sixth in 46.93.

His season and personal best of 46.59 has him seeded 26th in the 400 this week — the top 12 after two rounds of heats will advance to Eugene, Ore., for the NCAA championships June 6-9.

“I don’t think I even considered it,” Pietsch said Sunday via phone of nearing the top of his sport in college. “I didn’t even think that much about running at a D-III school. I thought it would be cool, but I didn’t know if I had what it took to run college track at all.

Daniel Pietsch will compete in the 400 meters and 4x400 relay this week in Tampa

“Before that, D-I wasn’t even in my head. After states, it was ‘maybe I’ll run a year at Tech,’ but it was so far off. It seemed pretty impossible at the time.”

He is in high-level mechanical engineering classes 15 hours a week and works out up to 10 more hours per week, including weight-lifting. He finished an economics degree in three years at Emory as part of the rigorous double-major program he chose out of Seabury Hall.

“Georgia Tech engineering is not known for being easy,” he said after finishing a semester with classes in dynamics, thermodynamics, intro to computer science, circuits lab and deformable bodies.

He finished with a 3.0 grade-point average this semester — “Not great for me, but considering the course load, I was happy with it,” he said — after compiling a 3.8 GPA in his first semester at Tech.

Yellow Jackets head coach Grover Hinsdale works with the 400 runners. He is the latest to be impressed by Pietsch’s prowess.

“It’s amazing in a lot of respects,” Hinsdale said. “The fact that his high school P.R. was around 48.8 and then he goes to a Division III school. . . . He was in good hands over at Emory, but whenever you sign a young man, whether they are a 48.8 guy or a 46.8 guy, you always wonder how they are going to do at the next level, how are they going to handle the pressure of better competition?

“When the whole aspect of a transfer came about, I had those same questions. . . . Is he going to have the same type of (positive) reaction? Obviously, he has.”

Now, school is out for the summer and the chance to get to historic Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus has come into focus.

“It’s pretty unreal,” Pietsch said. “The guy who won the ACC last weekend was a former Olympian from Australia. I’ve raced other former Olympians this season. It’s crazy. I didn’t think I’d ever get close to this level, so it’s been crazy and I have a year left, so I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s definitely cool to be here.”

After winning the D-III national title in 2016, Pietsch decided to redshirt last season while finishing his economics degree at Emory. He ran unattached a few times and will use his final NCAA season of eligibility in 2019.

While he dreams of working in the aerospace industry at a place like NASA or SpaceX, he may put that on hold if he can close in on an Olympic trials qualifying time in the low-to-mid 45-second range.

“It’s a surprise a lot of times,” he said. “Sometimes I will just take a minute to think about it and I can’t believe it.”

Hinsdale sees big things ahead for Pietsch, including a possible professional running career.

“At all levels, Daniel has proven to be a great competitor,” Hinsdale said. “He does not get intimidated and is very confident in his abilities. He trusts his training and he just competes week in and week out.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.