Staples High School's cross country phenom Hannah DeBalsi is 3.1 miles away from completing an outstanding season that saw her destroy records with each step of her feet.
Despite having to travel roughly 2500 miles on an airplane to do so, DeBalsi is determined to put an explanation point on her sophomore season.
DeBalsi will compete in the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championship at Balboa Park's Morley Field in San Diego on Saturday at 12:05 EST. The race will be shown at http://www.footlockercc.com/2013/webcast.shtml
DeBalsi didn't hesitate when asked about what her goals were in one of the biggest high school races in the country. Placing in the top 12 would clinch All-American status.
"My main goal is All-American, but just placing as high as I can in the All-American range," DeBalsi said.
DeBalsi placed third at the Northeast Regional, held at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx Nov. 30, with a time of 17:39, finishing seven seconds behind senior Tessa Barrett (Pa). The top 10 runners in each of the four regionals qualified for the trip to San Diego. Just nine of the 40 runners are freshmen and sophomores.
"Especially when you look at the way the population breaks down in the United States, the northeast is one of the more competitive regions, especially this year," Staples coach Amanda Parrish said. "Making it out of that region at all is a pretty big accomplishment. ... The accomplishment of making it to the 40 fastest girls in the country but also running that time on a very competitive course is a huge accomplishment.
It should come as no surprise that DeBalsi has her bar set so high. She torched the competition in nearly every race she ran this fall, setting course records in every race ran prior to the regional meet.
"I think it's really easy after Hannah had such an amazing season to forget that what it's like for her to race people neck-and-neck, especially for me as a coach," Parrish said. "To take for granted that Hannah is always so far out in front."
The top five times from this season's Northeast Regional would have won last year, highlighting the increased competition. The meet was a new experience for DeBalsi, who is used to running in a field all to her own out front.
"I think it helped a lot," DeBalsi said. "It was the first race of the season I had people with me and that I actually had to work on a strategy instead of running fast."
Ceci Hopp (1980) of Greenwich and Liz Mueller (1991) of Waterford are the two girls from Connecticut to win in the 35 year history of the race.
Parrish and assistant coach Malcom Watson will accompany Hannah to the Pacific coast. Together the three will devise a strategy for tackling the course.
"I would be confused and lost if I didn't have the coaches there," DeBalsi said. "It's a big help."
Parrish hopes the long downhill stretches that characterize Morley Field will help DeBalsi's cause.
"That should something that plays to her advantage," Parrish said. "I have never seen the course in person myself but I do not think it's supposed to be as hard as the course she ran in the regional meet. Almost anything else would be less brutal."