Stories Of Success And Hope: MileSplit's Best Writing Of '19

* PennTrackXC's Dan Beck profiled Thelma Davies as she closed her high school track and field career in 2019. 

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History arrives fast in track and field and cross country. And so you might often miss it if you don't know what you're looking for. 

Record attempts, both small and large, can often be as fleeting as they are monumental. So this sport, by its very nature, is one understood by nuance, and with patience.  

Context helps fill in the gaps. Storytelling gives license to an otherwise virtuoso performance. At MileSplit, we're often looking for those moments. And like any good race, telling a good story takes time, hard work and patience. In 2019, we told all kinds of stories. Below were our best from the past year.

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Indelible Mark

By Dan Beck

While she's just a few days shy of graduation at the independent boarding high school and will enroll at Louisiana State University this fall -- where she will wear her Philly and Girard roots as a badge of honor -- her resume won't be forgotten: For the past four years she's solidified herself as the greatest sprinter in Pennsylvania high school history.

And yet, her career hasn't been perfectly designed. Hardships, both mental and physical, have shaped the woman Davies has become on the track. Her coach, Diamond Woolford, knows that.

A Year Removed

By Cory Mull

Crayton Carrozza has one more lap to go in a race that won't count. Sixty-seven seconds left, in fact. And while that may seem a tad slow for someone like him, an athlete whom some believe will break 4 minutes in the mile in college, you have to remember why he's doing this in the first place, or why it wasn't done earlier, you know, against competition. 

One More Time On The Line For Arria Minor

By Bobby Reyes

Arria Minor is like a rocket, just waiting to break free. And when the starter's gun fires, there's no stopping her. The Denver East senior has raged around the tracks of Colorado for four years, and in that time she's transcended her competition, and the clock, to become Colorado's fastest sprinter everHer eight state titles, and two state records are proof of that.  While she enters her final state competition as a clear favorite to defend her state titles, it wasn't always that way.

Bold And Determined, Valor Is Ready For Nationals

By Bobby Reyes

While they were just days away from the biggest race of all of their young careers, there was something decisive lingering in the air. It wasn't fear or anxiety, it was confidence. The confidence may surprise some -- as Valor has to be the darkest of dark horses to line up on the starting line in Portland for nationals, but they trained and raced through the season knowing that they had two semi-secret weapons they'd get to unleash at Nike Cross Regional, as Lanie Szuch and Isabella Prosceno -- two transfers who had to sit out the regular season due to CHSAA rulings -- would get to race alongside them. They knew all along that they were much stronger than they appeared. The only real question they had for themselves was How Strong?

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No Slowing Down For Rayven Sample

By Kevin Czerwinski

In fact, there is very little that Sample can do that will shock Spry, who has come to expect amazing things from the 16-year-old. Sample has proven not only to be one of the most incredible track and field stories coming out of Section 6 and western New York State - his is a tale that is simply incredible regardless of what circumstances are attached to its telling.

Ocean City's Disney Trip Saved By Act Of Kindness

By Rich Beveneese

When the Ocean City High School boys and girls cross-country teams -- a contingent 79 strong -- arrived at Philadelphia International Airport Thursday evening, they expected to board a Frontier Airlines flight to Orlando, where they would compete in the 23rd Disney Cross-Country Classic.

For the last two years, the teams worked tirelessly to generate the necessary funds for their trip through various fundraisers like operating multiple car washes and bagging groceries at the local Shop-Rite. These student-athletes firmly believed they earned this trip.

But their evening was about to get interesting.

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Jonathan Schomaker's Passion For XC Has Broken New Ground

By Cory Mull

When Jonathan Schomaker was six months old,  doctors saw the big hole in his brain and came to the only conclusion that they knew at the time, telling his mother and father that he wouldn't be able to have a normal life. 

And maybe that's true. Jonathan Schomaker hasn't had a normal life  

It's been more than that.

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Matthew Boling Had The Best Run In Pan Am History

By Cory Mull

The Houston Strake Jesuit graduate, whose family is taking a well deserved beach vacation following Boling's final competition of 2019, won four gold medals and set an open PR, going a wind-legal 10.11 (+0.5) seconds in the 100m and later a 20.31 in the 200m -- just one-hundredth of a second off his best. He may have had the best juniors performance ever, and there's little argument that it was the best effort of the Pan American U20 Championship's 20-year history.

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Behind The Scenes Of Matthew Boling's Memorable State Meet

By Cory Mull

Very rarely a moment exists in high school sports when one athlete cultivates such a gravitational pull among those around him. 

But then again, it's been a surreal season for Matthew Boling. 

And perhaps nothing epitomized this rapid ascent into the zeitgeist of sports relevance more than in the 30 or so minutes after his heroic finish in the final race of the UIL Track and Field Championships on Saturday at Mike Myers Stadium, in what can only be described as a once-in-a-lifetime 4x400 meter relay moment. 

Chasing down his competition in his final high school race, the Houston Strake Jesuit senior unleashed an unforgettable 400 meter leg--which included making up a 30-meter deficit--that concluded with a 44.74 second split en route to his team's win in a nation-leading time of 3:10.56. 

"The crowd was crazy," Boling said afterward. "It sounded like thunder."

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Katelyn Tuohy's Will To Win Was On Full Display At NXN

By Cory Mull

It wasn't so much about earning another victory. She needed to feel it in her heart. 

She had long known that words wouldn't build your reputation in this sport. Results would. And if you took the time to prepare -- if you really dug in and leaned on all the little things -- you could achieve anything you wanted.

She was here, in her fifth and final appearance at Nike Cross Nationals, and history was possible. 

On Thursday, two days before the championship race, she sat down inside Nike's assembly room, next to teammate Haleigh Morales. She listened closer than usual.

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A Gritty End To Patrick Anderson's Magical Season

By Phil Grove

How hard was Patrick Anderson working in pursuit of a national championship Saturday in San Diego?

So intensely that the Mount Lebanon senior blew a hole in the toe box of not just one but both of the New Balance spikes that had carried him to victory each time he hit the starting line in 2019. By the time he crossed and then tumbled over the finish line of the 41st Foot Locker National Championship, arguably the greatest cross country season by a Pennsylvania boy was history.

For Marlee Starliper, Second Place Is A Win

By Dan Beck

But Starliper clawed her way right in the mix for the win a mile later. Now she had made what she hoped was the race's decisive move. Zofia Dudek from Michigan was the final Midwesterner that Starliper had to break and it appeared she was able to do just that near the top of the course's final hill and into the ensuing steep downhill.

With just over a quarter mile to go, Starliper had space between her and Dudek. She just needed to hold on now to win the national championship.

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Behind The Crazy 4x400 National Record From The Bullis Boys

By Cory Mull

When the baton came in the final moments for Ashton Allen, the fast-rising 400 meter prospect from Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, he wasn't so much thinking about the clock, or his hand placement, or his footwork. 

All Allen knew in that moment was that he had to go. 

"I just told myself, 'If I finish, we'll get it,'" he said.

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When Hard Work Makes The Dream Work

Michael Abeyta

Through all the adversity, they did whatever it took to realize their dreams. These young men did something that had never been done at their school in over 30 years.

They did this for their parents, for their coaches, and for their school.

But most of all, they ran for each other!

These great group of young men reside at Hanks High School in El Paso, Texas!

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Small School, Big Story

By Nolan Jez

Up in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley is the town of Buena Vista. Home to a whopping 6,650 people, or roughly the same amount of people as Lake Braddock and T.C. Williams High School combined. 

In this town lies Parry McCluer High School, founded in 1920 and home to 336 students. The school is also home to one of the best cross country teams in Class 1 this year. 

This team is chasing history and trying to make history as well. As a school they have made the states podium eight times with only one team title way back in 1980.

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A Full Circle State Championship For Warren & Livers

By Dan Beck

Even after the medal ceremony, Ron Livers was still coaching Christina Warren.

Livers, the jumps coach at Perkiomen Valley, wanted to sure up some of the technical aspects of his star senior pupil's approach in the triple jump. Her PIAA career may be done, but she still has some big summer postseason meets awaiting her.

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The Continued Climb Of Claire Walters

By Kevin Czerwinski

There are scores of coaches and runners who consider Claire Walters one of the best and brightest runners to come out of upstate New York in quite some time. And for good reason.

A state champ in all three seasons. A three-time NXN team champ. A Penn Relays champ. A Manhattan Eastern States Champion. An indoor nationals silver medalist. A Millrose miler. The list goes on.

Walters' ability and her record have pushed her on to a national stage, earned her a scholarship to an Atlantic Coast Conference [ACC] school and made her a favorite to watch anytime she toes the starting line.

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Dear Younger Me: 

Dani Jones

There are pages worth of experiences and lessons I have learned throughout the years that I could ramble on about, but I'll try and make this as brief as possible. First off, I would like to say how remarkable and absolutely crazy you are. Getting up early to run, stretching and doing core exercises, sitting in class all day, keeping up with homework, and to make matters worse, you're a teenager. You're teaching yourself what it means to work hard and set goals. Most importantly, you're managing those things while juggling a very confusing and awkward time in your life. 

But with this in mind, I would also like to say: You have a long way to go.

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Dear Young Me: 

Grant Fisher

You had some initial success in your life, and now everything seems to be clicking. You're running fast, are committed to join an incredible program next year, and have almost forgotten what it feels like to lose. You think that you know what it takes to be successful at the next level. Life is good.

But the result of your race tomorrow is not the part that matters. What's far more important is that afterwards, you will decide that you have things figured out. I mean, you've proven yourself over and over--of course you know what you're doing. People are telling you that you're the man. It feels great. There is nothing left to learn, right?

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The Shockingly Fast Learning Curve Of Lianne Kistler

By Cory Mull

If you were to describe Lianne Kistler's past week in poker terms, you'd likely land on something outrageous. 

That was one wicked, crazy run.

How else can you put into context the Seattle Ballard High School sophomore ascending nearly a foot vertically in the pole vault, with two massive personal records sandwiched between three days of action?

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Dear Running: I've Come To Understand You More Than Ever

Brynn Brown

I placed so much of my identity in you, I felt like you defined Brynn Brown. I began to feel valued solely by the records I broke, the number of miles I could run, and lost sight in who I was. 

When you were taken away from me recently I didn't know what to do, completely perplexed at my circumstances. I was left to meander through my thoughts. Who is Brynn Brown?

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Dear Running: You've Given Runners In The RGV An Opportunity

Cruz Gomez

A  simple state gold might not sound like a big deal to some people, but for me and my coach it was, and being together for the past four years helped us create a bond and a reward that was far more meaningful than the medal itself. It was a symbol of hope -- not only for me, but for all those runners in the RGV, and all the future generations ahead of us. 

So I have to thank you. I've had the opportunity to meet many runners from different parts of the U.S. that have the same goals as me, and because of you I've created friendships that will last a life time.

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The Story Behind De'Anna Nowling's Spring Success

    By Jeff Parenti

    Nowling, 17, the youngest of a large and complicated family, says her fallen siblings talk to her in her sleep. De'Anna talks back when she's awake.

    "It's different every time," she said. "If I'm feeling nervous, 'Man, I'm nervous. Help me out.' Before I walk on the track I talk to God. But when I'm on the track, I talk to my sister and brother.

    "At the line, if you see me looking up or looking down with my eyes closed, I'm talking to them."

    Another way Nowling says she honors the memory of her siblings: "I run."

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            Addison Stevenson Finds New Success In Cross Country

              By William Grundy

              It all started in June, a year after her father's profession in the oil industry moved the family from Alaska to Katy, Texas that Addison Stevenson hung up her leotard and picked up distance running.

              Once a dedicated gymnast, she used to spend up to five hours a day for six days a week in a gym tumbling on mats, jumping on balance beams, and swinging on the high bars.

              Gymnastics is a sport where there can often times be a serious mood. It provides a strong competitive atmosphere consisting of hours and hours of training for six to seven days a week. That atmosphere creates a strong work ethic.


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              Reminded Of Edward Cheserek, Alfred Chawonza Blazes New Path

              By Cory Mull

              There's a road Alfred Chawonza sees before him, one that's been pressed hard and fast years before. 

              And the St. Benedict's Prep senior is quick to pay homage to it, because it opened up doors that led him to where he is now. 

              But roads are meant to be exited, and by now Chawonza is starting to realizing that history and legacy are two different things. 


              Behind The Inspirational Track Team Led By 'Coach Miller' 

              By Cory Mull

              One way or another, students had met him at the Crossroads Alternative Technology School within the Alief ISD system. He was a PE teacher and had been there since 2006. Many had found him comforting. He had an easy smile, was generous with his time, and truly valued his job as a teacher. He cared about your future. 

              Beyond that, Karla and others saw Mike's story as one of inspiration. 

              He was never shy about his past. In fact, he often led with it. He would tell students how his life was struck with pitfalls before it actually really started going. He talked about his second chance, his two degrees from Prairie View A & M and now, at 36, his full life. 


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              In Memory Of The Late Gabe Grunewald

              By Jennifer Zahn

              A native of Perham, Minnesota, Grunewald (née Anderson) was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma at 22 years old while competing collegiately for the Gophers in 2009, but that didn't stop her from continuing to excel as a runner. As history would eventually prove, not much could.

              Despite undergoing radiation and surgery to remove her salivary gland, Grunewald continued to train and compete, only to receive another cancer diagnosis in 2010--this time, in her thyroid gland, which would eventually require another surgery and radioactive iodine therapy. 

              Grunewald, who first started at Minnesota as a walk-on, remained undeterred. She finished runner-up in the 1500m at the 2010 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships by kicking hard to pass Jordan Hasay just a few meters before the line. She went pro later that year, signing with Brooks. 


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              After Star Turn, Sha'Carri Richardson Unsure Of Pro Status

              By Joe Battaglia

              As the 100m finalists got into the blocks on the opposite side of the track, University of Southern California sophomore Chanel Brissett, fresh off a runner-up finish in the 100m hurdles, emerged from the mixed zone to catch one of the most anticipated races of the finale to the 2019 Division I NCAA Outdoor Championships.

              Less than 11 seconds later, Brissett scooped her jaw off the track, shook her head in part awe and part disbelief, and then mumbled to herself, "Oh yeah, she's definitely going pro," as she walked off the track.


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              Muslim Runner In Ohio Reflects On The Impact Of Race DQ

              By Cory Mull

              In the five days since Noor Abukaram was disqualified from her district championship cross country race in Toledo, Ohio, for wearing a hijab, the Sylvania Northview High School runner has had time to process, think and reflect on what it truly means to be a Muslim girl in today's world. 

              "I have been going through a whole train of emotions," the 16-year-old said Thursday by phone.

              The consensus she's reached isn't anger, as it might be for someone who had a personal 5K record wiped away. Nor is it spite, over a supposed rule targeting religious attire. 

              Those two things would disguise the real issue at hand. 

              It's that of understanding.


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              Abby Loves Drops All-Time Great Dazzling Distance Double At NBNI

              By Jim Lambert

              Sometimes a runner finds motivation and inspiration and combines that with a heart that can't be measured, which can add up to something they didn't see coming, something magical.

              That's what happened to Abby Loveys this past weekend at the New Balance Nationals at the New Balance Track and Field Center in New York when the senior at Randolph pulled off a stunning distance double, one that will go down in NJ history as a performance for the ages. 


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              Healthy and Rolling, Anthony Grover Eyes History

              By Jeff Parenti

              This Saturday, JSerra High senior Anthony Grover could become just the fourth boy in the history of the CIF-State Cross Country Championships to win three division titles.

              Amazing in itself and even more so considering Grover's struggles at the end of his junior season. 


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              Skyline Junior Eleanor Wikstrom Eyes Historic Goal

              By Jeff Parenti

              More than 1,000 feet above the Bay Area into the Oakland Hills, Eleanor Wikstrom rolls through a recovery day with her Skyline High School track teammates. It's a low-stress day but Wikstrom and the small group of boys running with her are methodical and focused in their approach despite intermittent rain and less than ideal conditions. 

              There's both a consistency and a joy about her as she and those with her churn through lap after lap, first on the wet track and later on the outer edge of the synthetic field. 

              Wikstrom, a junior, has an easy smile with warming and confident brown eyes. Behind that welcoming demeanor is a 16-year-old beyond her years who knows where she's headed. 


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              DeSoto Girls Are The Best Texas Track And Field Team Ever

              By William Grundy

              This marked the fourth consecutive team title for her Lady Eagles program and the ninth under her helm. The squad scored a total of 121 points on their way to another dominating team performance and outscoring the second, third, and fourth place teams combined.

              Once again, they are the best team in the state of Texas this year. But is it possible that we just saw the best team of all-time? Yes, it is possible. In fact, we did just witness the best high school girls track and field team ever.


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              Behind Courtney Frerichs Slightly Different Path In Running

              By Rod Murrow

              Courtney Frerichs' first major running performance was a 5:32 mile. It's a mark that, in some states, would put a fair share of female athletes on the podium of their respective high school state championship meets.  

              Courtney achieved that effort at 10 years old, and was in the fifth grade.

              For many gifted young female runners, such a performance at that age would trigger increased expectations, training, and higher-level competition against athletes years older.

              Not Frerichs. 


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              Zofia Dudek's Early Beginnings Continue To Drive Her Success

              By Cory Mull

              When Zofia Dudek was a young girl and living in America, in a stretch of Florida where the heat hangs off the trees, she began running because there was a prize at the finish line: A necklace. 

              Each lap around her local track earned her a new pendant to put on it, so every week the Polish-born student-athlete kept running and logging victories. Soon enough that necklace was perfect, shiny and colorful, the perfect representation of her hard work. 

              On Saturday, roughly nine years after earning her first pendant on that track at Tampa Palms Elementary School, and maybe just a few hundred meters from the finish line on Saturday at Foot Locker Nationals, she was reminded of what it would take to win another prize. 


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              Open (Thank You) Letter To Officials, Timers & Directors

              By Adair Lyden

              Without you, I'm not sure where Florida track and field athletes would be. I know I can speak for many in Florida when I say that you play a pivotal role in all of our lives, one so monumental that I am continually grateful for.

                This sport is special because it creates community. It makes you earn respect, and through this, it teaches you what life is truly about -- relationships, hard work, and persistence.


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                Gabe Abbes' Redemption Season At Great Oak Continues

                By Cory Mull

                Injured athletes can often feel isolated from a team when they're not performing. Sometimes, those injuries can even impact athletes in various mental and physical ways. 

                But while Abbes was dealing with a stress fracture that soon turned into an achilles issue, he knew that he was still a captain. And all his life, he had felt like he had this innate ability to lead, to encourage others with positivity, to lift his brothers up around him. 


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                Coatesville Breaks All-Time 4x100 Record

                By Dan Beck

                The many onlookers that filled the stands at Shippensburg were perhaps expecting an encore from CD East. Instead, it was Coatesville, the District 1 champions in the event, that captured the win and the record. The Red Raiders became the first Pennsylvania team ever under 41 seconds in the relay, clocking a 40.99 for the AAA state title to break that record.

                "We knew how fast we are, we knew how talented we are," second leg Eric Kirk said. "We just had to execute our handoffs."

                And the handoffs were pretty. Very pretty.


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                Noah Malone Is On The Verge Of Breaking New Ground

                By Cory Mull

                As more successes came, like an Indiana State Track and Field Championship in the 200m in 2019 and invitations to represent Team USA on the international stage, Malone started to see his future play out in real time. 

                Now Malone, who has 20/600 vision, is on a path toward doing something else remarkable. He could join a very rare list of visually impaired track and field athletes -- and could become one of the first sprinters in the T12 classification -- to earn a scholarship to a Division I university. 


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                Jieem Bullock Was In Disbelief After National Title Win

                By Cory Mull

                Previous to Saturday, Bullock's best in the long jump was 22-9 at the North Carolina Indoor State Championships, where he finished third. 

                But there's something to be said about solving a complex equation like the long jump, even if it was just one attempt.