Hill makes a splash in cross country

On High Schools

High schools

October 23, 2005

It must be nice to have Kelsey Hill's ability to go really fast on land and in water. Appropriately enough, her life is going by in a blur as well.

Hill, a freshman at Severna Park, is a solid swimmer at the Annapolis Swim Club, placing 11th in a 1,000-meter freestyle race and fourth in a 500-meter freestyle competition during a meet earlier this month. She is good enough to have been named Swimmer of the Month at the club in February 2004.

But it has been on the cross country course where Hill has become a breakout runner this year. She was the surprise winner of the Scorpion Crawl at Oakland Mills on Oct. 15, this after winning the public schools race at the Meade Autumn Classic earlier in the month and the junior varsity division at the Knights Invite last month.

Hill has emerged, literally, from nowhere on the local running radar to a name to watch in the state meet next month at Hereford. Her success is coming so fast that Hill really hasn't had time to come up with an explanation for how it has happened.

"I don't really know anything right now, so I just run," Hill said last week. "I'm not sure [what will come out of it]. I don't know. I just try to do my best at the states, and try to be at the top."

At the Scorpion Crawl, Hill ran the course in 19 minutes, 2.24 seconds, beating an impressive field of runners, including Atholton junior Alison Smith, the reigning All-Metro Runner of the Year, who also won the Class 2A state title last fall, as well as Wootton sophomore Veronica Salcido, who finished third in the 4A meet last year. Hill also bested her Severna Park teammate Liya Kasimova, a sophomore who was fourth in the 3A run last season.

The Crawl race was an eye-opener for Ed Purpura, who has coached cross country at Severna Park for 18 years. Purpura said he had been intrigued by Hill's potential in her first two wins, but to capture the title at Oakland Mills against such an impressive field in a dominant fashion (Hill took the lead after the first mile and won going away) let him know that Hill isn't a flash in the pan.

"You could really see her athleticism and that she's been in sports a long time," Purpura said. "I really think she got a big lead and she wouldn't let anybody take a chunk out of that. I think she got that from swimming. She knows how to sustain really intense effort. And that's what she's really good at. That's one thing that a lot of our kids struggle to do when they're really new. They get tired and then they slow up."

Hill and Purpura agree that a large part of her running stamina comes from her swimming training. Racing 20 laps in a 50-meter length pool for the 1,000-meter freestyle might not be completely analogous to running a cross country course, but it doesn't hurt.

"In swimming, your lung capacity is bigger, so it's easier to run long distance. You don't get as tired," Hill said.

Said Purpura: "You can see that swimming has helped her a lot, because these two sports are really similar. It's all you. It's you all by yourself, whether it's you swimming in a pool or you out in the middle of a field like she was [Oct. 15], way far away from the crowd with just her and people breathing down her back. It's all you. You can't hand the ball off to anybody. These two sports are so great for that kind of stuff and so similar."

The really funny thing about Hill's success is that it comes almost by accident. Hill, who gave up soccer and lacrosse early on to concentrate on swimming, which she has been doing competitively since she was 5, hadn't given cross country a second thought.

Then, her gym teacher at Severna Park Middle School noted last year during a cross country unit how fast she ran a mile and told Purpura to be on alert for her when she arrived at the high school.

Hill signed up for the team but didn't initially show up for practice. Purpura asked his freshman female runners to look out for her and ask her to come to practice. One of them delivered Hill's phone number to the coach, as her parents wanted to be sure that she could balance her swimming training with cross country.

"We worked all that out and she came out and we're just trying to put wheels on her right now," Purpura said. "She has the engine. She just needs some wheels. She's going to get better, quick."

In an interesting twist of fate, one of the girls Hill beat in the Meade race was Arundel senior Marissa McPhail, the daughter of the gym teacher who recommended Hill to Purpura.

Now, about that schedule, which frankly would tax someone twice her age. After her day of classes is done at Severna Park, one of the area's best academic public high schools, Hill goes to cross country practice, then is transported to Annapolis for swimming practice, before returning home around 8:45 each evening. And, on Thursdays, you can add in a 5 a.m. swimming session before school as well as the after-school activity.

Hill acknowledges that her routine is "kind of tiring," and that the day might come when she'll have to choose between her first love and the sport in which she has become a prodigy.

"Now that I run, swimming is kind of getting boring," Hill said. "I don't know. I might choose running, if I had to choose."

Given the pace at which everything else in Hill's life is going, when she makes that choice between running and swimming, it will probably be a quick decision.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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