Since storming onto the scene as an anonymous freshman, Hannah DeBalsi has been in constant competition. From cross country in September through outdoor track in June, the grind of local, regional and national competition has tested the physical and mental strength of someone who has continued to set the pace, regardless of the field.

Heading into the fall season, the decision was reached for DeBalsi, now a junior, to get a little extra rest. DeBalsi didn't run in any of the four meets the Wreckers participated in this fall; her first race will be Oct. 16 at the FCIAC championships in New Canaan.

DeBalsi's training schedule is in top gear at the moment in preparation for the FCIAC meet. Still the overwhelming favorite to win the race, DeBalsi's primary goal is to earn top spot and help the Wreckers earn their first FCIAC title since 1997.

"I'm just going to go for place because it's my first race," DeBalsi said. "I can't have high expectations (for time). Also being tired (from) training and not peaking for (this race). Just getting place and getting comfortable going fast again."

DeBalsi's ultimate goal is to qualify for the Foot Locker National Championship, a race she finished second at a year ago. The Northeast Regional is slated for Nov. 29 in New York with the National Championship set for Dec. 13 in San Diego.

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"It's unusual for typical high school runners and our program; I've never done anything like that before," Staples coach Amanda Morgan said of resting her top runner. "But looking at a lot of those top girls looking to contend for national spots, I know a lot of them are racing pretty minimally or not at all or not even running for their high school teams."

Morgan paid attention to how rival Ridgefield, winners of the last three FCIAC titles, managed its top runners during the regular season and how it translated to postseason success. Morgan also noted that many of the elite high school runners rarely run for their school.

"I've been reading a little bit about different theories about racing and tapering," Morgan said. "I've tried to think about putting Hannah a college training schedule in terms of how many races. In college we'd race four or five times a season, and for these dual meets last year I got really excited (in going undefeated during the regular season), but then we didn't win FCIACs, states, or the State Open."

DeBalsi conceded she would have liked to get into action once before the postseason, but appreciates the bigger picture and cheering on her teammates from the sideline.

"It was kind of fun," DeBalsi said. "It was frustrating me sometimes because I wished I was out there, but at the same time it was fun not being stressed out about my own race and be able to appreciate the sport in general."

DeBalsi was ranked No. 1 heading into the season by Dyestat.com, which may place an unnecessary target on her back, according to Morgan.

"It's an honor and it will motivate me more but I don't pay much attention to it because at the end of the season it's not about rankings; wins matter," DeBalsi said.

The last time DeBalsi was in a competitive race was the Brooks P.R. in June. DeBalsi finished second in the 2-mile that day a week after winning the 2-mile at nationals.

DeBalsi went to the Nike Elite Camp this summer, a week-long program that brought together 20 of the best high school runners in the country and gave DeBalsi an opportunity to interact with premier coaches and athletes.

"It was really fun, at first awkward," DeBalsi said. "Once we got to know each other it was nice to be around people that had the same mindset and interest as you."

The Wreckers excelled despite DeBalsi's absence, going 16-2 in meets this season despite missing their ace in addition to other runners that didn't race the full schedule.

"I think it's a really good sign because I didn't race in any of the races and some of our top runners didn't race in some of the races," DeBalsi said. "That they were able to win so many of the meets was a good sign for when we are at full strength."