ORONO, Maine — Riley Masters is among the most accomplished distance runners in University of Maine history.
The two-time All-American from Bangor owns a handful of school records and was the first Black Bear to run a mile in under four minutes.
Now Masters plans to pursue his career outside his home state. UMaine announced Friday that the talented senior will transfer to the University of Oklahoma and will run for the Sooners beginning in January.
“Really it was just an opportunity to explore something new and spread my wings a little bit, broaden my horizons,” Masters said Friday afternoon.
He conceded his decision was based in part on having the chance to test himself against Big 12 competition.
“They’re in a large conference and they do a great job exposing their athletes and giving them an opportunity to compete at a very high level,” Masters said.
However, he repeatedly hesitated to highlight the pluses of transferring to Oklahoma because of his respect for UMaine, head coach Mark Lech and his teammates.
“The University of Maine coach, Mark Lech, has done wonderful things with me,” Masters said. “I owe him a lot and he’s been terrific.
“No doubt at Maine I would have had the same opportunities but it’ll just be a different experience at the University of Oklahoma,” he added.
Lech could not be reached for comment.
Masters expects to be able to compete for the better part of 1½ years with the Sooners. He said he has two seasons of eligibility remaining in outdoor track and field and one indoor season with the possibility of another cross country campaign.
He enrolled at UMaine in September 2008, which means his five calendar years of NCAA eligibility expire at the end of the 2012-13 school year.
Masters will be eligible to compete immediately at Oklahoma under the NCAA’s one-time transfer exception, which applies to student-athletes who have complied with all eligibility and academic guidelines at the first institution they attended.
Student-athletes who play baseball, basketball, Bowl Championship Subdivision football and men’s ice hockey are not eligible for the one-time transfer exception.
Masters said he looks forward to working with Oklahoma coach Martin Smith.
“He’s a wonderful coach,” said Masters, who visited Oklahoma last weekend. “He’s coached several national championship teams.”
While Masters said his focus is on the short term, the move may help facilitate his quest for an eventual spot on the U.S. Olympic team. He plans to try to qualify for the 2012 London Games in the 1,500 meters during the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.
“I’m trying to set myself up for a successful postcollegiate career and potentially a couple runs at the Olympic Trials and hopefully a top-three [finish] and a berth to the Olympics. I think that would be really cool,” Masters said.
The 2008 graduate of Bangor High School repeatedly has put himself and the Black Bears in the limelight since joining the UMaine program.
Perhaps his most celebrated accomplishment was breaking the four-minute mile. Masters first did so on Feb. 20, 2010, when he ran the mile in 3 minutes, 58.97 seconds at Boston University’s Valentine Invitational.
Masters lowered his time to 3:59.07 at Columbia’s Last Chance Meet on March 6, 2010.
He is the fifth-ranked miler in the NCAA Division I ranks this year. He placed ninth at the 2011 NCAA indoor championships and earned All-America status for the second time. Masters was an All-American in the mile during the spring of 2010 after finishing fifth in the NCAA championship meet.
Masters followed that up last fall by winning his second straight America East cross country individual crown. He also placed second at the New Englands.
He had not been competing for UMaine during the 2011-12 indoor season.
Masters owns school records in the 1,500-, 3,000- and 5,000-meter runs and the mile run and has qualified for the NCAA indoor track and field championships the last three years.
Masters was the America East 3,000-meter champ indoors from 2009 to 2011 and also won the league’s cross country title in 2010 and 2010. He claimed the 1,500 at the New Englands in 2009 and went on to place seventh at the NCAA outdoor championships.
During his high school career at Bangor, Masters led the Rams to state championships in indoor and outdoor track his junior year and won individual state crowns in the 1,600 and 3,200 outdoors and the mile indoors as a senior.
BDN writer Ryan McLaughlin contributed to this report.