Fergus Falls sophomore Haylie Zenner already owns two Class AA state championships in the 800-meter run. But what she did at last Friday’s Hamline Elite Meet in St. Paul has raised the young runner’s profile even higher and left one big question surrounding her: How low can she go?
Zenner, who turned 16 on January 21, made a momentous move from the back of the pack to win the Hamline race in 2 minutes, 13.89 seconds. It was a school record, a personal best and the fastest 800 time by a Minnesota high school girl in three years.
During a pre-practice team meeting Monday, Fergus Falls girls’ track coach Niki Welde told the Otters – most of them stayed home to train and missed the Hamline meet – about Haylie’s big race.
“The girls cut in right away,” Welde said, narrating her mental picture to the team. “She’s boxed in, she’s in a bad spot. The girls cut at the 100, moved in and she was dead last. I’m not kidding. There wasn’t a line of girls, it was a clump of girls and she was behind them all. She did something unconventional. She ran out and around and back in. She was out in Lane 7. She ran 808 meters. She was leading the pack. She gets to her famous 200 mark, the last 200 meters of the race, and she pulled away.”
Welde painted a perfect picture of Zenner’s big day. Her time was the 25th-fastest 800 in Minnesota girls’ high school history and the fastest since 2007, when Megan Smith of Eden Prairie ran 2:11.87. The state record is 2:08.24, set by Jeanne Kruckeberg of Blooming Prairie in 1984.
So, Haylie, how fast can you go before your high school career comes to a close in 2012?
She didn’t answer the question directly, but in a sweet, unassuming manner she made it clear that anyone who wants to beat her – fair warning: she hasn’t lost in the 800 since eighth grade – better work as hard as they can and then double those efforts.
“After the Hamline race, I felt like I could have put some more into it,” Haylie said. “So I’m going to keep working hard at practice and see what I can bring to sections and state.”
Welde said that kind of work ethic, coupled with seemingly limitless natural talent,
makes Zenner special.
“She’s just got such a level head,” the coach said. “I’ve never worked with an athlete like her. She doesn’t let things freak her out. One thing I noticed right away is that she’s the kind of kid, going into the next season [after winning the 800 at state as an eighth-grader], she was Facebooking and talking to these girls she met down at state. She makes her competition real; she always talks to them, shakes hands with them, you see her doing that all the time. If you make them real, it’s not this scary imaginary force out there. She always has a really good head about competition.
“She’s got speed, she is a closer. And that last 200 is her part of the race. She holds the school record in the 400, she can be in the 25s in the 200, she could challenge the school record in the 1,600 if she ever wanted to play with that, she has our best long jump of the season. She’s just so well-versed, she’s just an all-around athlete.”
Haylie remembers being “in shock” after winning a state title in the 800 as an eighth-grader. “I was hoping for top five,” she said with a smile. She could become a five-time state champ, and she admits to thinking about that, “but you never know what’s going to happen.”
She runs cross-country in the fall and plays basketball in the winter, where she is known as a fierce defender. She has been beset by injuries and mishaps during cross-country, which makes Welde figuratively knock on wood whenever those things are mentioned in the spring.
Haylie enjoys more about track than hitting the finish line first. She said training, competing and being with her friends is a key component of the season.
“It’s like the reason I love it,” she said. “You’re with everybody and you meet new people at track meets. Everybody’s so open with each other. I get my friend to come out for track, and that’s the fun part of it.”
As for being so talented and decorated at such a young age, she shrugs her shoulders.
“It’s being who I am and just going out there and having fun,” she said. “It’s about winning and getting a good time and making your goals, but I like to go out and just run my race, stay confident, do what I can do.”
--John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
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