La Crosse, Wis. -- Don't consider it a victory lap.
Or even four victory laps.
For Lynchburg College graduate student Natalie Deacon, this week's trip to the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships will be much more than that.
Deacon will hit the track at the Veteran's Memorial Field Sports Complex on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in search of her fourth-career All-America performance with a chance to repeat the honor in the 1,500-meter run. Deacon placed seventh in the event at nationals in 2017, but she remains hungry for success.
The quest begins with the preliminary race Thursday, May 24 at 2:45 p.m. CDT (3:45 Eastern). She will run in the second of two heats.
The top four runners from each heat along with the next four top times will advance to the 12-woman final. Should she advance, that race will take place Saturday, May 26 at 12:35 p.m. CDT (1:35 Eastern).
Deacon's career accolades thus far would eclipse the wildest dreams of many Division III athletes -- countless individual awards and a national championship in women's soccer paired with three mid-distance All-America performances between indoor and outdoor track -- but the West Chester, Pa., native is still hungry for more. She's been clear: Making it back to nationals is just the beginning.
"That's not great to me," Deacon said of qualifying. "I'm really pumped to just go out there, lay it on the line, and fight for every inch."
Part of the motivation is a showing she deemed lackluster in the 1-mile at the Division III indoor championships this winter. She placed sixth in the event and defended her All-America honor in the event, but she didn't feel as though she ran her best race.
"I was actually really disappointed with my performance," Deacon said. "And it wasn't because of my time, and it wasn't because of the place. I was just how I ran the race; I wasn't satisfied with it."
This time, with the twilight of her career looming, she knows to leave nothing in the tank.
"I just want to run with courage and run my heart out," she said. "And I think I'll be really proud of that result."
Deacon has already accomplished much in the 2018 outdoor season. She helped lead the Hornet women to an Old Dominion Athletic Conference team championship, the program's first since 2011, with a win in the 800-meter run and second in the 1,500 and 5,000. She was an All-South/Southeast Region performer (top three time) in the 800 and 1,500 and met the NCAA qualifying mark for both events, electing to compete only in the 1,500 in La Crosse.
She enters the national meet ranked 23rd in the 1,500 and 11th in the 800.
Prior to continuing her running career, she was a stalwart on the back line for the Lynchburg women's soccer team and helped the program to the national title in 2014. She was All-ODAC, all-state, all-region, and Academic All-America on the pitch. She took up track & field when her soccer career ended and didn't miss a beat, becoming an All-American in the indoor 1-mile with a seventh-place finish as a senior and finishing seventh in the 1,500 at outdoor nationals in 2017. She also earned another CoSIDA Academic All-American title, becoming the first athlete in Lynchburg history to win the award in two sports.
"It's just been such a cool journey," Deacon said. "I ran track in high school, and coming back to it has just been kind of like a full-circle thing."
Continuing with soccer as a graduate assistant at Lynchburg, Deacon elected to use her final year of eligibility on the track as well in what's turned into a whirlwind year. The Hornets won another ODAC title on the pitch in the fall, and she continued to break records when track season rolled around; Deacon now holds the program records in the indoor 800, 1-mile, 3,000, and distance medley relay and outdoor 800 and 1,500.
But true to form, she hasn't let herself be satisfied with success.
"It really has shaped me as a person," she said of the new challenge, "but I also think that there's a lot of unfinished business."
Should she finish in the top eight this time around, Deacon will become the first four-time All-American in Lynchburg women's track & field history.