No time to waste for SMC standout scholar-athlete

NEENAH — St. Mary Central senior Greg Greif downplays his time-management skills. He doesn’t see the big deal in balancing a challenging class schedule with athletics and music.

Greg Greif runs in the lead at the Patti Jakubek Invitational Sept. 28 at St. Mary Central High School in Neenah. Greif, a two-time state qualifier in cross country,  won the race in a time of 17 minutes, 21 seconds. It marked his third individual victory of the season. Greif also excels in the classroom. He was named a 2014 National Merit Scholar semifinalist. (Dick Meyer | For THE COMPASS)

Greg Greif runs in the lead at the Patti Jakubek Invitational Sept. 28 at St. Mary Central High School in Neenah. Greif, a two-time state qualifier in cross country, won the race in a time of 17 minutes, 21 seconds. It marked his third individual victory of the season. Greif also excels in the classroom. He was named a 2014 National Merit Scholar semifinalist. (Dick Meyer | For THE COMPASS)

“If there’s an opportunity to do something, I want to do it,” he said. “I enjoy them all so why not do them.”

Academically, Greif is one of the top high school seniors in the nation. He was recently named a 2014 National Merit Scholar semifinalist based on his scores on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, which he took as a junior. Semifinalists are the highest scorers in each state and number less than one percent of the 1.5 million students who take the test.

Greif is now involved in the application process for consideration as a National Merit Scholar Finalist. He hopes the recognition will serve him well on college applications and for scholarships. His first choice is to attend the University of Notre Dame to study physics.

“I have a lot of family history there,” he said in reference to South Bend. “I’ve been there for a lot of football games and family reunions. My dad, grandfather, uncles and some cousins all graduated from Notre Dame.”

While Greif has followed the Fighting Irish on the gridiron, his chosen sport is running. He advanced to the state cross country meet as both a sophomore and junior. Last spring, he competed in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters at the WIAA state track and field championships.

Greif would like to bounce back with a strong finish at the state cross country meet in Wisconsin Rapids. He finished 25th in the WIAA Division 3 field in 2011 and 65th last fall.

“Last year I didn’t do as well mainly because I had been injured during the summer,” he said. “I couldn’t run during the summer.”

Greif set an individual goal this season to break the 16-minute mark, but is considering a revised goal after recently posting a time of 16.09. He won the St. Mary Central Patti Jakubek Invitational on Sept. 28 and has also placed first in meets hosted by Iola-Scandinavia and Roncalli high schools. He finished second at Sheboygan Lutheran and St. Lawrence.

Greif would rather talk about the team goals. The Zephyrs are targeting a conference championship, the first-ever trip to state as a team and top eight finish in Division 3.

“We’ve got three juniors who are all doing really well — Luke Willems, Connor Behm and Peter Ulrich,” explained Greif. “Peter is new to the team this year. He came over from football after getting too many concussions. He’s our number four runner now. A freshman, Brandon Wagner, is in the top five.

“Henry Jankowski is the only other senior,” he added. “I think they will be even better next year. Those three juniors will be seniors. We have a few sophomores who could fill in and Brandon will be even better.”

Greif, who has been on the varsity cross country team all four years, credits Coach Chad McCartney and the dedication of the squad for its success.

“I remember freshman year we didn’t do the type of workouts we do now,” he said. “We are better as a team and we have larger goals. We try to keep each other focused. If one person is not doing as well as he should, it could prevent the team from reaching its goals.”

Greif is also a musician. He is a saxophonist in the school jazz band and also plays the piano. Other school activities include math league and forensics. Whatever he’s doing, even watching television, he takes the same approach.

“I try to spend all my time in a useful manner,” he said. “If I’m watching TV, I want it to be something that will be useful to me like watching the news or an educational show. Otherwise, I want to be reading, practicing the piano or studying.”

“The Lord of the Rings” books top his reading list and his favorite website is the Khan Academy created by Salman Khan. Educational television programs spurred his interest in science.

 “When I was a little kid, I liked dinosaurs so I wanted to be a paleontologist,” he said. “We always watched “Nova” on PBS. Then “Nova scienceNOW” came out. The host Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist. I thought that he was awesome. I read one of his books. That started getting me interested in astrophysics and physics.”

Greif is the fifth National Merit Scholar Semifinalist from St. Mary Central in the past four years and the third cross country runner to earn the honor. He won’t know if he’s a finalist until after the season, which he hopes will close as a team.

“When you go (to state) as an individual you are in a box with a bunch of strangers,” he said. “There’s not really that team experience. We have a really good team this year and big goals, and I definitely think we can accomplish them.”