When pressed to think about where it all started, where this massive improvement from one of Pennsylvania's better runners a year ago to one of the nation's best in 2017 was borne, Marlee Starliper points to November of 2016.
"I think that goes back to last year at states when I was runner-up," said Starliper, who as a freshman for Northern High finished second in the PIAA Class AA championships in 19:00. "Being that close to a state title, even at that point, I never expected to get there. But after that, it opened my eyes."
At that point, Starliper said, she knew she couldn't just focus on Pennsylvania anymore.
"There's a lot more that I can accomplish," she thought. "That motivated me. Of course I wanted to get that state title, but along with that, it made me realize I had a lot more to think about at the national level."
And so from December of 2016 through the indoor and outdoor track and field season -- when Starliper went 4:49.68 in the 1600m and 10:31.09 in the 3200m last May -- a transformation took place.
Not a year later, Starliper, now a sophomore, finds herself in San Diego at Foot Locker Nationals as a legitimate threat to secure a top-five finish in one of the nation's most historic and iconic events. She's won her first district title, her first state championship, and earned her first Foot Locker Northeast Regional win.
"It makes me strive to see what more I can do," she said.
Along with that honor, a parallel shift has taken place, too. She's now entrenched herself among the prized class of 2020 recruiting class, a list that includes North Rockland's (NY) Katelyn Tuohy, McKinney North's (TX) London Culbreath, Glenbard West's (IL) Katelynne Hart, and Mountain View's (ID) Lexy Halladay, among others.
"It's amazing," Starliper said. '"Seeing what they're doing, it gives more motivation to see what I can do. It's been fun watching what everyone has been able to accomplish."
That transformation didn't happen by chance, either. It coincided with a coaching change.
Abram Albert, a 25-year-old former runner with Messiah College and a graduate of Northern, was given the reigns to train Starliper at the beginning of the indoor season.
And his main focus at that point, he said, was to elevate Starliper through consistency.
"As a freshman, she was running five days a week and was getting a few days off," Albert said. "She probably didn't need to take off that long, so for me, we run six days a week with one off day. The schedule is more consistent week in and week out, with workouts and everything else."
Starliper's mileage didn't raise dramatically, but she did begin to cross train, which included yoga and resistance training. She continued to build the foundation in the summer, pounding miles on hilly central Pennsylvania terrain, including long runs at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, located just at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
"It made me feel stronger all around," Starliper said. "I just felt overly physically better."
Albert knew Starliper's efforts in track -- which also included a 4:51 full mile at a Hoka One One race in June -- were going to translate to cross country. He just wasn't sure how quick.
Albert got his answer in September at the Carlisle Invitational. On a slightly revamped Carlisle Invitational course, Starliper absolutely dominated the field in a course record 16:50.00, which became a new U.S. No. 1 time at the 5K.
"After running that, I really believed in her (to do big things)," Albert said. "For her, all of a sudden, she was in the top 10 nationally and was getting recognition she hadn't done before. Some of the expectations changed."
Starliper also got other things in her season right, including scheduling. While the regular season at Northern had its fair share of dual meets, the sophomore used those runs as workouts and then focused on specific meets on her calendar.
While she raced in seven big meets in 2016, Starliper only had to concentrate on two pre-postseason meets and then the District 3 Championships, the PIAA Class AA title race and Foot Locker Northeast.
It led to course records at Big Spring (17:58.21), Carlisle (16:50.0), and Districts (17:25.0). Starliper was just six seconds shy of course record at Hershey's state course, winning in 17:50.0.
"I was looking to get a state record and get a fast time," Starliper said. "But after I went out faster than I wanted, things changed and I wasn't too happy with my time."
Outside of Tuohy, Malibu (CA) High's Claudia Lane, and Lansing Catholic (MI) High's Olivia Theis, Starliper also has racked up the the third most consistent and data-driven performances on the fall calendar, earning speed ratings of at least 150 or 151 three separate times.
Now Starliper heads into Foot Locker Nationals, on a tough Balboa Park course, with larger aspirations.
Not only is she the first athlete from Northern Hight to qualify for the national meet, but she now has a chance to become an All-American in cross country and secure one of the top finishes in the race.
As a sophomore.
After having to navigate a season largely spent soloing through Pennsylvania to now battling with some of the nation's top talent head-to-head -- including Lane, Theis, Hart, Rebecca Story, and Katherine Lee -- Starliper will have to learn quick.
"I know it's going to be a challenge for me," Starliper said. "But I just really want to keep in mind just that I don't want myself to panic over anything. If I would happen to be in the middle of the pack to start, I just want to focus on running my own race and focus on how I'm feeling rather than the girls around me. I want to do my best."
There's no doubt she already has.
Everything else is just icing on the cake.