A new challenge

North Carroll senior Katie Hursey has mastered cross country and swimming and hopes to eventually compete in a triathlon

Cross country

November 19, 2006|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Katie Hursey is beyond anxious to one day try her hand at triathlons. The North Carroll senior is already one of the state's elite distance runners, as well as a national-level club swimmer.

There's just one hitch in the plan.

"The only thing I don't have is a bike," Hursey said, laughing.

With four years of Division I cross country and track ahead of her at Syracuse University, she should have plenty of time to save up for a 10-speed.

"Honestly, I think she has Olympic potential in the triathlon," said Mike Kremer, her longtime swimming coach. "You don't find that many athletes who are very good at swimming and running."

"Already, the times she can run would be top-level triathlon times," said Chris Fox, the head cross country and track coach at Syracuse. "That's certainly something she has in her future ... hopefully after she's finished here."

Since recently signing her national letter of intent with the Orange, Hursey, The Sun's All-Metro Runner of the Year in cross country last fall, has begun her annual transition from spiked shoes to a swimsuit. After she competes Nov. 25 in the Northeast Regional of the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in New York -- where she's hoping for a top-10 finish after placing 22nd a year ago -- she will dive headfirst into training for swimming.

Competing for her YMCA team last winter, Hursey qualified for the organization's Swimming and Diving National Championships in the 200 freestyle, as well as on a relay team. Kremer believes that, if not for her other sport, she most likely could make it as a top swimmer for a Division III college.

"It hurts as a swim coach to see her go with running, but you've got to be honest with it," said Kremer, who coaches Hursey as part of the Carroll Aquatics Tiger Sharks (CATS), based at the Four Seasons Sports Complex in Hampstead. "She has not done that kind of year-round training with running, and look what she's accomplished."

After first trying her hand at track as a sophomore because "I didn't want to play lacrosse anymore, but I didn't want to do nothing," Hursey exploded on the scene, culminating her inaugural season by winning Class 3A state titles in both the 1,600 and 3,200 in street shoes.

Then, in what she calls "the hardest decision of my life," she gave up soccer -- the sport she grew up with -- to run cross country as a junior.

"When I did track and won states, people started saying, `Oh, you should run [cross country] because you're good at it.' I'd say, `But I play soccer,' " recalled Hursey, who changed her mind after a dose of reality from her soccer coaches. "I asked them how much playing time I'd get, and once they told me, I pretty much decided I'd go farther with running than I would on the soccer field."

She went on to win the Class 3A state title her first season in the fall sport, then followed it up this season with county, conference and regional crowns, as well as a runner-up finish at states.

And she's done it all without year-round training or, for that matter, race strategy.

"My game plan is never really the smartest one," Hursey said. "It's usually just to get out as the lead runner, because I don't like following people. By doing that, it's kind of a big risk, because I could [tire out]."

That was the concern of North Carroll coach Elizabeth Foyle on a blustery day last month at the Monocacy Valley Athletic League championship meet in Williamsport.

"People said, `Tell her to stay behind someone -- to draft until the end,' " Foyle said. "I tried to tell her, but she said, `Why would I want to do that?' I said, `So that you're not fighting the wind the whole race. Let somebody else fight it for you.' No, she didn't want to do that. She just went out and kept it going."

She won the race by more than a minute.

College coaches, however, say she'll need to become more tactical to achieve similar success at the next level.

"We find that the young kids who dominated high school have a really hard time with that at first," Fox said. "Katie's going to be surrounded by seven, eight, nine girls that are every bit as good as her. You can't just go out and try to break everybody at this level. It won't work."

Hursey knows she'll need to make some uncomfortable changes, not only in her running style, but also her training habits.

"I really haven't trained that hard, ever," she said. "It will be interesting to go to college and be training at a whole new level."

She's also hopeful that she'll be able to continue swimming -- a sport she credits for the extraordinary lung capacity that has paid off in her running. Her college coaches have encouraged her to fit it into her workout.

"It will be kind of like cross-training for her, maybe in lieu of morning runs," Fox said.

Then, there's the ever-intriguing notion of a triathlon.

"Oh yeah, I really want to," said Hursey, who often swims the mile -- nearly half the distance of the swimming leg of the event. "I wanted to do one last summer, but I never got the chance."

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