* Desert Vista senior Grace Ping made an official commitment this past week, solidifying the next step of her running career
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Grace Ping's commitment on Friday to Oklahoma State University meant a lot of things for the 17-year-old from Desert Vista High School.
For one, it was confirmation that her bright future, which has been on display at the national level for five years now, will continue at a program which holds a tradition of success at the collegiate level.
In other ways, it reminded Ping that success doesn't always live on a straight line.
But perhaps the most poignant realization was this: Few high school athletes have ever been on a road like hers, and some don't always continue on to the next level. Hers will.
"It's definitely weird looking back," said Ping, who owns six age-group world records between the 2-mile and 5K distances between the ages of 11 and 13. "I mean, I would say that my high school running didn't exactly go as planned. But I think that everything happens for a reason. And honestly, I'm just excited to run at the college level and have that in front of me."
At 10, Ping set her first world record in the 5K with a time of 18:02.10. By 13, in a field of women at the Portland Track Festival, she lowered it to 16:25.63.
* Grace Ping at the Roy Griak Invitational in 2015
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Then in 2015, the Roy Griak Invitational happened. Ping, just a seventh-grader at the time, blew away the field and ultimately made a huge statement, signaling the beginning of a career.
She became a two-time NXN qualifier and All-American before she was even in high school, then would become a multiple-time state champion in Minnesota, scoring six championships across cross country and track and field. She qualified for the World U20 XC Championships, and then was the junior team's top finisher.
A family move took her to a new school entirely at the end of 2019, and it was at Desert Vista High School where she began to understand, perhaps for the first time, the process of how to deal with injury and fatigue.
But of course, Ping didn't finish her junior year without merit. Eventually, she qualified for another national cross country championship in 2019, and then ran the eighth-fastest 3,200m of the year through a pandemic.
All these moments have given Ping, who is among the top 75 recruits in the country, perspective on the kind of career that few girls ever experience in high school.
"I've definitely seen physical changes," she said. "But more like internally, I feel like different things that have happened in my life have shaped me. And bigger events."
* Ping, as an underclassmen at Winona-Cotter (MN) High School
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In all, she has secured a 5K best of 17:08.00 in cross country, along with outdoor PRs of 4:55.74 in the mile, 10:25.45 in the 3,200m and 16:26.83 in the 5K.
A strong family support system, including her father Ryan, her mother Megan and siblings Lauren and Jameson, have been along for the ride all along.
"I feel like I've matured, obviously," she said. "It's kind of hard to describe."
And so naturally, the next step in Ping's journey was to pick a future collegiate home.
But while that process may be difficult for some, her path and experience provided an incredible resource: The understanding of just what she wanted from a women's program, and of a school.
Having lived in the cold climate of Minnesota, the elevation of Utah and the dry heat of Arizona, Ping largely felt like she could adapt wherever she went. So she narrowed down her final choices down to Florida State University, the University of Virginia, Northern Arizona and Oklahoma State.
While other athletes in recent weeks have committed to programs sight unseen, Ping knew one of the most important functions to her commitment would be getting a look of campus.
So that's what her family did, traveling to each university unofficially to see what it had to offer.
"I went to a few schools with my dad to see them in person," she said. "I feel like that was important to see just where you would be living. So that was very helpful."
And yet, because the NCAA dead period was extended until January, Ping and her father couldn't actually meet coaches on campus, or take offical walk-throughs. It was still Zoom calls. Text messages would suffice.
* Ping, as a junior with Desert Vista (AZ) High School
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Eventually, Ping had the moment that every eventual-college-enrollee feels. It came in Stillwater.
"I really just built a lot of trust with the coaches and had a good relationship with them," she said. "I loved the campus. It was super clean and nice. And I loved the girls on the team. I was able to meet them through Zoom."
Ping built quality foundations with assistant coach Anna Boyert-Thorp and ultimately felt comfortable with head coach Dave Smith.
The Cowboys, and Stillwater, felt like home.
"They're energetic people and I like that," she said. "They're passionated about what they do and they want to keep building the program."
By the time Ping reaches Stillwater in the fall of 2021, she'll be eight years into a running career that began long before she even knew that it was a road she wanted to pursue.
But time and perspective is a currency few have but her.
And in a lot of ways, there's no better feeling than that.
A CAREER THROWBACK
* Ping's first-ever interview for MileSplit
* Ping was sixth at Team XC Nationals
* Ping secured a 13-year-old world age group record
* Ping finished second in this indoor 1,600m in 4:55
* Grace Ping after her Foot Locker Nationals finish
* Ping talks about her great finish at the Desert Dream Last Hurrah Invitational
Contact MileSplit USA editor Cory Mull at email@example.com. Want to share your commitment? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow the Recruiting Rundown