While Staples' Hannah DeBalsi continues to rewrite the state record books with her blistering pace in all of cross country meets she has participated in this season, another Wreckers runner is quickly emerging as one of the top runners in the state.
Staples junior Erica Hefnawy finished fifth in the Class LL meet last Saturday and sixth at the FCIAC Championship meet in New Canaan Oct. 24. DeBalsi was the only non-senior that finished ahead of Hefnawy in both events.
"The times that (Hefnawy) are running are as faster that anyone that I remember running at Staples since they moved girls to the 5K, including girls that got attention for being the No. 1 runner," Wreckers coach Amanda Parrish said. "Last year when (DeBalsi) was running those times we were all so excited; I think Erica gets overshadowed with those same standout times."
After not enjoying as much success as she hoped as a sophomore, Hefnawy has drastically cut her times this term. She ran 21:09 in last season's Class LL championships and 19:22 this year at Wickham Park.
"I think I just really got serious about it, over the summer I just knew what I needed to do," Hefnawy said. "I knew going into to junior year it is a big year; I didn't want to lose the focus about how important everything is and really keep my love for it strong. I got serious about training and followed what (the coaches) said."
Hefnawy, who also runs indoor and outdoor track, comes from a family of runners. Her brother, Dean, was an all-state on the pole vault and attends Manhattan College. Once she began high school, running was the only thing the younger Hefnawy wanted to do.
"I would run with my dad once or twice a week," Hefnawy said. "I played soccer and basketball growing up. I only liked the running aspect of it; put me in a field and I'll just run back and forth."
DeBalsi, on the other hand, began running competitively on a whim in eighth grade and has developed into a prodigy. While the duo came from different backgrounds, their passion for the sport is similar.
"I think the two of them play off each other well," Parrish said. "It's good for Hannah to have someone that's really positive and serious, even if they might not be the same pace in practice, but someone that shares that passion."
The normally reserved DeBalsi and outgoing Hefnawy complement each other perfectly, according to Parrish.
"(Hefnawy is) really perky; she is like that all the time," Parrish said. "It is really sincere. Erica is much more outgoing whereas (DeBalsi) is shyer, even after all the times she's been interviewed and been in the spotlight."
With one race remaining in the state cross country season -- Friday's State Open at Wickham Park -- featuring the best runners from across Connecticut will serve as the culmination of 18 months of hard work for Hefnawy.
"(Hefnawy's) improved her times by two minutes at every course, which is amazing," DeBalsi said. "It's really cool to see how hard the team is working as a whole. It's a lot more fun to achieve things as a team as opposed to in individual."
If Staples places in the top six teams Friday, it qualifies New England's in New Hampshire Nov. 9th. The top 30 individuals qualify in addition to the top six teams. Hefnawy is currently seeded 10th for the race. Last season, she accompanied DeBalsi on the journey for moral support.
"Last year it was kind of scary with a bunch of boys so it was really cool to have her there with me," DeBalsi said. "I was able to warm up with her and get ready. If we go this year it would be fun as a team to bond."
Returning to Wickham Park for the third time in a month will hopefully be the charm for DeBalsi, Hefnawy and the rest of the Wreckers.
"The first time at Wickham none of us really ran the course well except for (Elizabeth French)," DeBalsi said. "We got some more practice at Class and now we should be better at Opens; hopefully running a smarter race."
After making so much progress this season, Hefnawy hopes to parlay her successes into the future -- both in high school and beyond.
"I know junior year is a big year for sports and school," Hefnawy said. "I really want to run in college. I hope to get recruited; my whole family is runners and it would be great to continue that. It's really something I enjoy and it would be amazing if could continue."