Staples’ DeBalsi named Hearst Connecticut Media Girls Indoor Track MVP
Fairfield County’s contribution to national distance running has been immense in that period, with Fairfield Prep’s Christian Alvarado (Georgetown), Westhill’s Claire Howlett (Stanford) and Darien’s Alex Ostberg (Stanford) in between setting the standard.
DeBalsi (Staples) and van der Els (Brien McMahon) — Hearst Media’s 2016 Indoor Track MVPs — have carried the flag in their senior seasons. They both closed the indoor track seasons with phenomenal efforts in the 5,000 meter run at nationals. van der Els took first place while DeBalsi finished fourth.
“It’s so different to see Connecticut able to complete nationally,” said Staples cross country and assistant track coach Amanda Morgan, a lifelong runner who attended Staples. “I feel like in the past six or seven years Connecticut has put itself on the map, which is impressive given how rough the winters are and how small the state you’re pulling from.”
Both are once in a lifetime runners at their respective schools, completely re-writing the record books in the process. DeBalsi stormed onto the scene as a freshman, and van der Els broke out as a junior.
van der Els ran a perfect race in taking top spot at the national meet, remaining in touching distance of the leaders for the entire distance before turning on the jets in the final laps.
“With (one kilometer) to go I was like ‘wow this is really hurting a lot,’” van der Els said. “There was a lot of lactic acid building up, it was really tough. But then I was like there’s five laps to go, three minutes if I close fast; just suck it up, I’ve done the training and take it home.”
DeBalsi became the first athlete — male or female — to win the same event at New Englands in four straight seasons when she took top spot in the 2-mile at the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center in Boston.
Reserving energy for the national race, DeBalsi was finally able to test herself against the top runners in the country. At The Armory in New York City, DeBalsi crossed the finish line and fell over in a heap after placing fourth.
“I was on the ground for sure, that doesn’t really happen that often so I was really happy I could push myself that hard,” DeBalsi said. “It takes girls around me to do that, I think the girls brought out the best me.”
“As a runner and coach I know it’s pretty rare you get the competitive environment and you feel good enough to push yourself that far,” Morgan said. “I know Hannah relishes the opportunity to push herself.”
Representing the Senators at every meet, van der Els was delighted to be able to bring a national championship back to the school. McMahon placed second at FCIACs, Class LL and the State Open behind van der Els, who ran the 1,000, 1,600 and 3,200 each time.
“I’ve been doing a lot of that, it just feels really great to promote the track team,” van der Els said. “We’re doing really well this year, this is the first time we got second at FCIAC, Class LL and State Open. We’re making a name for ourselves and I’m so proud of that.”
Both have one more season outdoors before DeBalsi heads west to Stanford and van der Els makes the short journey to Stoors.