Cross country and track weren’t always Leo Daschbach’s sport of choice as a child.
The Highland senior grew up on the soccer field, molding himself into a talented player before high school rolled around. He continued to play soccer when he enrolled at Highland as a freshman, but also found a love for running on the cross country and track and field teams.
Highland cross country coach Monty Montgomery recognized right away how special Daschbach could be, but injuries on the pitch limited him in track season.
“I told him he could be one of the best runners in the country but he kept getting banged up in soccer,” Montgomery said. “He came to me a week later and told me he was done. He’s everything you want in an athlete.”
Realizing he wanted running to be part of his future, Daschbach decided to hang up his cleats for good. It was tough for his parents, Billy and Erica, who were avid soccer fans their whole lives.
But as Daschbach continued to improve and the offers from major college programs began to pour in, they quickly evolved.
“I grew up playing soccer and they were pretty big soccer heads, so it was hard for them,” Daschbach said. “When I won state my sophomore year, I had already been thinking about quitting soccer but that was kind of the final straw.
“Now they’re big geeks for running. It’s cool.”
Daschbach was one-fourth of the Highland track and field relay team that set a new state record in the 4x800-meter relay last spring. Daschbach ran anchor for the Hawks and helped them finish in 7 minutes, 42.18 seconds, just over three seconds faster than the previous record set by Desert Vista in 2015.
The senior also captured gold in three other events during the track and field season, as he won the 800, 1600 and 3200, the latter of which he trailed until moving up four spots in the final two laps to win.
While Daschbach’s career at Highland is already littered with gold, he hasn’t slowed down.
The senior lit up the course at the 13th annual Nike Desert Twilight in September in Casa Grande. Daschbach was involved in a close contest in the 5K race with Cole Sprout, a senior from Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Col.).
Sprout maintained the lead most of the race, with Daschbach pacing behind him until the final 100 meters. It was during that time that Daschbach made his push, passing Sprout to win.
Daschbach recalled the crowd urging him on toward the finish, with loud cheers from all teams involved. The race, which has been primarily dominated by out-of-state schools in recent years, felt like any other for Daschbach. The Highland senior finished in 14.26 seconds, setting a new state record. It was also the second-fastest time ever run in a 5K race at the high school level in the country.
He was just four seconds behind the all-time record, set back in 2000 by Dathan Ritzenhein of Rockford High School in Rockford, Mich.
“I was out there to win,” Daschbach said. “That race meant a lot to me. I stuck on Cole Sprout the hole race and really just out kicked him in the end. I didn’t know I was going to run that fast.
“It was a really awesome race because everyone was out there yelling for me. It was a huge moment.”
The fact that he had just ran the second fastest 5K in U.S. history didn’t set in right away. In fact, he didn’t even know what he had done until he was being interviewed after the race.
Even over a month later, he still doesn’t believe what he did has set in.
“I didn’t know any of that, I thought I just won the race,” Daschbach said. “It still hasn’t kicked in, just the magnitude of it. I’ve just kind of internalized the win, got what I learned from it and just kept working.”
Daschbach’s illustrious career at Highland has gotten the attention of several major Division I programs. Before committing to the University of Washington, Daschbach held offers from the likes of Oregon University, UCLA and Colorado.
His athletic ability, combined with his over 4.0 weighted GPA, has helped set Daschbach up for success in both academics and running.
“My view of the sport, it was very similar to the coaches at Washington,” Daschbach said. “They have a history of taking good runners out of high school and turning them into great runners. It was a good fit.”
Daschbach has always enjoyed physically pushing himself, which is where his love for running stemmed from. Now a senior, he has found himself pushing others on the Highland team.
Montgomery called Daschbach a natural leader, and someone who brings a specific type of energy to the team that benefits those around him. In his long tenure both competing and coaching, Montgomery believes Daschbach is the best runner he’s ever seen.
“I grew up in the 70s and there were a lot of Leo’s back then,” Montgomery said. “I’ve had some good runner here at Highland, but Leo is the best high school runner I have ever seen. Both in terms of his ability and his leadership, he’s the best.”
Daschbach hopes to continue his successful career at the state cross country meet on Saturday, Nov. 16 at Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix. From there, he plans to once again be part of the Hawks’ track and field team, which returns several other seniors and will be among the favorites to capture the state title.
His time at Highland has been dominated by success both in the classroom and on the track. It’s a time Daschbach says will forever be close to his heart as he continues his career at Washington next fall.
“It’s awesome to be able to run for something bigger than myself,” Daschbach said of his time at Highland. “The standards of excellence here have increased a lot and it’s awesome to see. The mentality of us seniors is transitioning to the rest of the team.
“It’s awesome to see that this team has improved and will continue to in the future.”