Indiana Daily Student

Indiana cross country senior Arjun Jha is overcoming pressure, accumulating accolades

<p>IU senior Arjun Jha runs during NCAA Great Lakes Regional on Nov. 12, 2021, in Evansville, Indiana. Arjun Jha&#x27;s ninth-place finish at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional<a href="https://www.idsnews.com/article/2021/11/indiana-cross-country-fails-qualify-ncaa-championships-regionals" target=""></a> earned him All-Region honors and a spot in Saturday’s NCAA Cross Country Championships at the Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Florida.</p>

IU senior Arjun Jha runs during NCAA Great Lakes Regional on Nov. 12, 2021, in Evansville, Indiana. Arjun Jha's ninth-place finish at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional earned him All-Region honors and a spot in Saturday’s NCAA Cross Country Championships at the Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Florida.

Arjun Jha still finds himself getting nervous while lining up in the box just before a race starts.

But the Indiana cross country runner has little reason to worry. Now a senior, Jha has spent his collegiate career proving he’s good at this.

Jha’s senior season has been his best yet. He’s finished first among Hoosier runners in all four races in which he’s competed, including a First Team All-Big Ten showing in the conference championships. His ninth-place finish at last week’s Great Lakes Regional Championship earned him All-Region honors and a spot in Saturday’s NCAA Cross Country Championships at the Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Florida.

Now, he has a national title in his sights.

“I’ve had solid outings pretty much every meet this year and I’ve got to have that confidence that it’ll go the same way again,” Jha said after the regional meet. “Things go well when you can do those things: have confidence and just compete as hard as you can.”

Jha made immediate contributions after joining a talented cross country team as a freshman. He was one of the first seven Hoosiers across the line to finish as a scoring runner in all three championship meets: conference, regionals and nationals.

As a sophomore, Jha earned All-Conference and All-Region honors for 12th place finishes in both the Big Ten and Great Lakes Championship meets. In the 2019 NCAA Championships, Jha placed third on the team and 91st overall.

In Jha’s junior year, the NCAA cross country season was cut down by COVID-19. As a result, Indiana only competed in two meets. The changes and uncertainty didn’t slow Jha down any, as he recorded an 11th place finish at the Big Ten Championships to again secure All-Conference honors. In the season’s NCAA Championships, Jha crossed the line 85th overall and second on the team.

But Jha said the work the team puts in at practice helps him overcome any pre-race jitters once he is out on the course.

"When you know you’ve prepared really well, when you’re toeing the line with really talented teammates who have also worked really hard, it’s pretty easy to just kind of remember ‘OK, we’re ready to go,’" Jha said. "That confidence in our preparation really helps to settle things down and just go out there and do what you do best."

Before he could race in a collegiate meet, Jha had to decide where exactly he wanted to go. Jha had options on where to run in college, but he was drawn to Indiana because of the program’s core values of strong competition and teamwork. When he watched the team, he saw the team’s veterans live those principles every day.

“When I was finally able to visit I just really loved the team atmosphere,” Jha said. “The team environment here was just second to none.”

Head coach Ron Helmer said Jha has come to embody those same philosophies that brought him to the team originally over the course of his career. 

“He’s not afraid to challenge himself a little bit and upset the pecking order a little all in the name of creating a little bit of higher standards,” Helmer said. “It does you no good to be a part of a high-level training group if you don’t have people who are trying to push the top end out on a regular basis.”

Jha said healthy competition is due to the team around him rather than a single individual.

“We don’t have to put too much effort into it,” Jha said. “It’s just something we all care about so it just comes very naturally.”

No matter what happens this weekend, Jha isn’t done yet. After this season ends, Jha plans to enroll in a master’s program and continue both his academic and athletic careers at Indiana. Although he has been at the school and on the team for four years, he still has eligibility thanks to the NCAA’s COVID-19 policies.

In the meantime, Jha will keep running and competing. This weekend’s national meet is his next opportunity to add another accolade to his resume. Sure, his nerves will bubble as he steps into the box — they’re always there. But Jha has learned to live with the pressure and channel it into something meaningful.

“The nerves definitely don’t ever go away,” Jha said. “That’s what makes it so fun, the thrill of competition.”

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