Behind The Emergent Season Of Pioneer's Zofia Dudek

* Ann Arbor Pioneer's Zofia Dudek is on a tear this cross country season

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Zofia Dudek is forming a reputation for accomplishing the unexpected. 

In a matter of months, the Polish-born athlete has earned a national win in the mile at Brooks PR in June, an international victory at 3,000 meters at the European U20 Championships in July, and a domestic haul against the nation's top females at 5K in September at the MSU Spartan Invitational. 

So there's no doubt that Dudek, 17, has been a revelation in high school girls distance running over the last six months, taking title after title en route to more confidence and more glitzy PRs. She's MileSplit's No. 14 recruit in the Class of 2020 and is ranked No. 6 nationally this cross country season

"It's just amazing," said long-time Ann Arbor Pioneer coach Nancy Boudreau, who's coached Dudek for the past three seasons. "I mean, we knew she was pretty good last year. Cross country she had a really good season, then she had a better track season. This year she's gone crazy."

Dudek's been on fire in every race this fall, winning six straight contests, and all but one has been faster than her best performance of 2018 at the distance--her top speed rating of 157 (from MSU Spartan) is tied for third in the country, alongside Claire Walters and Brynn Brown and right behind Katelyn Tuohy and Sydney Masciarelli.

And her PR of 16:46.90 at the River Rat Open, a US No. 6 time, was a new school record and the second-best time in Michigan history according to the MileSplit database. 

"I would have never expected her to run that fast," Boudreau added. "She hasn't had (that much) competition."

Dudek's father, Maciej, brought the family to Ann Arbor in 2017 after accepting a role at the University of Michigan as a visiting professor in economics, following previous stints in Florida and Indiana. 

And it's in Michigan where Zofia has truly found her form, going from a 5:00-minute 1,600m runner as a sophomore to a 4:45-minute athlete as a junior.  She cut 36-seconds off her best in the 3,200m, hitting a personal best of 10:14.41 this past April, and dusted off 8-seconds in the 800m, posting a 2:10.80 in May. 

Perhaps the in-state competition between Ericka Vanderlende a year ago helped. Or maybe the mentorship of Ann Arbor graduate Anne Forsyth -- who has competed at the U20 level for Canada -- fostered that growth when Dudek was just a sophomore. 

But maybe even more than that, Dudek has been motivated by what she didn't accomplish in 2018. She was agonizingly short of qualifying for both Foot Locker Nationals (18th at regionals) and Nike Cross Nationals (9th at regionals) last fall. 

"She thought she could qualify and didn't do it," Boudreau said. "She wants to come back and see what she can do."

But she changed those setbacks the following spring. 

Running against the nation's best milers at Brooks PR, she finally started to break out in a big way. Dudek bided her time for two laps before making a move with 450 meters to go, and then made another critical move 100 meters from the finish, winning in 4:41.34. 

"That was not expected," Boudreau said. "We knew she was good, having finished third in the mile at New Balance Nationals Indoor. The win out there was special, though." 

Dudek would then go on to spend time in Europe, winning the 3,000 meter race in Boras, Sweden -- with another last-ditch kick -- before heading right into a running camp in Poland. 

"She came back (to Michigan) and just started going again," Boudreau said.

Boudreau said she was never worried from the workload (or the lack of rest), considering her Ann Arbor team trains under light mileage and never quite approaches 30 miles per week over the cross country season. 

"We do more intense shorter stuff and keep the mileage low," she said. "Generally, one day a week we do hills hard, then we do a longer distance, then we do a workout, then another long run. Then we compete." 

Everything has been clicking this fall. And Dudek has been crushing each race. 

At this point it would be hard -- or downright naive -- for any team or individual to sleep on Dudek. And beyond her individual success, Ann Arbor Pioneer, which is ranked No. 1 in the state based on average, is in a position to win a MHSAA Division I State Cross Country title, something the program hasn't done in over a decade -- though the team has finished second twice over the last three seasons. 

Boudreau said the high school senior wants to continue on with even bigger expectations. 

"She wants to win the state championship," Boudreau said. "She's looking forward to qualifying for both Foot Locker Nationals and Nike Cross Nationals, too. I think her goals are to win either, or both." 

At this point, would you expect anything less? 

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