Leya Salis Makes Her Races Count & Eyes Big Performance At Loucks

Leya Salis' season is just getting started. 

The Bedford (NH) High senior, one of the nation's best middle-distance talents, debuted two weeks ago at the Penn Relays Carnival, where she won the high school girls Championship 1-mile in 4:52.95. 

Not only was it a personal best, but it also gave Salis, a recent Cornell signee, her first title at the revered event in four years. 

"I stayed calm and was able to kick with 200 to go," Salis remembered. "And I was just like, 'Maybe I can win this.' So I ended up closing really fast. That got me the title." 

Now Salis is moving on to the 50th annual Glenn D. Loucks Games in New York, starting Thursday and going through Saturday at White Plains High, where she'll race the 800m and 1-mile. 

It may present Salis with a sterling opportunity to contend for a national-caliber time in both races before June, when a string of national meets hit the scene. 

But while Salis is ranked U.S. No. 17 in the 1-mile after her Penn Relays result, many other athletes -- including comparable talents from states across the country -- have already raced a handful of times. Some even just finished their state championship series this past weekend. 

That fact could worry some. Not Salis. 

Her strategy of maximizing results in limited races is something she's been aware of since she was a freshman at Vienna Oakton (VA) High, before she transferred to Bedford as a junior.  

Her appearance at the Penn Relays in April was nearly two months since her last appearance at New Balance Nationals Indoor, when she took fifth in the 800m with a time of 2:09.86. 

She left the indoor season with a U.S. No. 4 effort in the 1000m (2:48.25), a U.S. No. 7 performance in the 800 m(2:09.86), and U.S. No. 16 time in the 1-mile (4:53.50). 

At Oakton High two years ago, she first learned what racing at 100 percent truly meant. 

"I've heard the saying there's only so many races in your career and you can only get so much out of you," Salis said. "I like that mindset. So I've always wanted to make my races count when I could." 

When Salis transferred to Bedford as a junior, she ultimately transitioned out of the 2-mile and longer events to the middle distances, but she continued to operate with her best races in mind. 

"I know I want to keep my legs fresh for when I do compete," she said. "I know college is coming. And I want to get as much when I get there as I do now." 

Even a year ago, Salis rarely raced as a junior. She entered roughly seven outdoor meets, largely focusing on the New Hampshire and New England championships before moving on to New Balance Nationals Outdoor in June. 

But even in the senior's Division I events this year -- her state championship series -- she'll pace herself among the competition and likely will focus on tactics rather than a season best. 

"That's more about running a pace and trying to hit a time or splits," she said. 

Salis will also miss the New England Championships since it falls on her graduation day -- a moment she doesn't want to give up for track -- but that just may mean she'll be even fresher in June for bigger meets. 

So she knows she has to pounce on opportunities when they come. 

The Cornell signee has high hopes starting this weekend at Glenn Loucks, where she hopes to drop seconds off her career-best outdoor time of 2:10.15 in the 800m. 

What helped this winter, she said, was her base training. After an unforeseen obstacle -- her state's indoor training center collapsed because of snow -- Salis pumped in more of a foundation in her legs. 

"It helped a lot with my endurance," she said, "even though it wasn't a planned thing." 

Her first outing at Penn Relays told her a lot about her fitness level. 

"I went in with no expectations," she said. "I just wanted to see what I could do. I tried to stay with the pack. And I was confident." 

Ultimately, after a performance like that Salis solidified her position among the nation's best. 

While she's the defending New Hampshire Interscholastic Association Division I champion in the 800 and 1600, as well as the New Hampshire and New England indoor champion in the 1000m, she knows there's also plenty of room to grow. 

"I'm excited to see what I can do," she said. "I know the situation will dictate the race." 

And while there will be few occasions to that moving forward, Salis will make them count.