High school junior headed to cross country nationals

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By Justin Feil, Contributor
Chloe Wong is the fourth Hillsborough High School girls cross country runner to qualify for the Nike Cross Nationals, but she is doing it earlier than any other Raider.
Ashley Smolinka (2009), Julianna Miller (2010) and Kelly Janokowicz (2012) all qualified with top five finishes at the Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regionals as seniors. Chloe is just a junior, but ran a personal record 18 minutes, 43 seconds at Bowdoin Park in Wappinger Falls, N.Y., on Saturday for fourth place in the girls championship race to punch her ticket to nationals.
“It feels really amazing to qualify,” she said. “It kind of felt like a dream. It doesn’t even feel that real.”
Chloe will compete Saturday at the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore. She will be competing against the top runners in the country thanks to her efforts this year.
This year, Chloe led the Raiders to 10th place in the team standings to cap their season that started with mild outside expectations that they blew away.
“Everyone worked hard and put in their best effort,” she explained. “My coach, he’s really good at training and it’s been amazing how far everyone has come.”
At regionals, Jennifer Tavares ran 19:50 for 41st place, Natalie Tavares ran 20:30 for 87th, Hayley Baydar finished in 21:02 for 122nd, Brianna De la Cruz ran 22:06 for 175th, Kathryn Van Pelt closed in 22:21 for 186th and Claudia Baydar ran 22:32 for 196th.
The Raiders averaged 20:26 over one of the more difficult courses in the country.
“It was pretty amazing how we all finished in 10th place and at the beginning of the season we weren’t even ranked high,” Chloe said. “We came in seventh in MOCs and 10th in the Northeast. It’s amazing to see how far we came.”
Chloe’s fourth-place finish fits nicely in Hillsborough history. Ms. Smolinka was second at regionals, Ms. Miller was third and Ms. Janokowicz was fifth.
Like those three before Chloe, Hillsborough head coach Rich Refi thought that Chloe would have a chance to go to nationals.
“She has been coming on strong all season — especially lately,” Mr. Refi said. “I told her she had a shot but she really had to go for it. I’m so thrilled for her.”
It took the race to convince Chloe.
“Honestly, I didn’t really expect it,” she said. “My coach thought I’d have a chance at qualifying. I wasn’t even sure myself. It was a really big surprise to me.”
During the race last Saturday, Chloe was in the lead pack the entire race and outkicked Annie Glodek, a senior from Pennsylvania, to set a new personal record.
“I was really happy with the time,” Chloe said. “I was really surprised because it’s a personal record. Usually it’s pretty difficult to get a personal record at Bowdoin Park because it’s a pretty challenging course.”
Chloe was the top junior finisher in the race. Two seniors and a freshman finished ahead of her.
Pennsylvania’s Aislinn Devlin was the repeat winner in 18:09. Chloe was less than 10 seconds out of second place. The tight competition helped to push her through to the end.
“There was a big pack at the beginning. I stuck with the top five and it spread once we started going down the hills,” she said. “I was still pretty close to the girl in front of me. I think there was some distance between me and the girl behind me and so that was some peace of mind how she was far and not on me the whole time.”
Chloe was proud of her strong finish, where she passed one more competitor down the last 200 meters. She closed quickly over the final stretch to move up one spot in the top group.
Last year, at the same race, Chloe placed 33rd in 19:39, which was a big jump over her freshman year. It motivated her to come back this year and try to finish higher, even if the season didn’t start the way she would have liked.
“Last year there was a lot of misfortunes,” Chloe said. “I had a sinus infection earlier in the month and then I sprained my ankle a week earlier. It wasn’t really affecting me directly, but I was missing some days of training. All throughout October I was sick on and off so I missed a lot of training.”
Along with her health issues, Chloe was forced to start her season later than expected after she suffered a concussion body surfing when she hit an old pier piling that was hidden in the water. After recovering, she was Hillsborough’s top runner for the season.
“Everyone contributes to the team. It’s a group effort,” she said. “Everyone plays a part. It’s just been great running with them this season. I just had a little more experience than them.”
Chloe relied on her experience in regionals. The team had helped each other handle the race, which was the first regional for most of them.
“We took it as another race and we got through everything,” she said. “We ran the hardest we could all season.”
Even with experience, Chloe knew it was a special race. She was coming off a strong showing at the MOC, after which she felt she could still run well. At regionals, she took on more than her usual competition from in-state.
“I think it’s actually kind of nice to not know who you’re up against,” she said. “Then you don’t have to go into the race thinking about all the competition. Instead, you don’t think, you just race. You just focus on your race and not other people and what they had done.”
Now, Chloe has a feather in her cap. Reaching nationals shows her continued progress year after year with the Raiders. She’s been on a consistently improving trend.
“I think I’ve done pretty well over the years,” Chloe said. “During freshman year, we usually do less mileage because we’re getting used to the program. Sophomore year, I just didn’t have the greatest season training wise. I didn’t get a lot of straight training. This year, I got a solid season where I got to train every day and I didn’t get sick or anything. That helped a lot.”
Looking forward to next year, she said she hopes to do better, since she doesn’t intend on being out for three weeks with a concussion.
Chloe put a bright light on her injury. She felt fortunate it happened early in the year and it didn’t interrupt her training through the season as she moved toward making her first trip to the Nike Cross Nationals.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I don’t even know what to expect. I’ve never been there. No one that I really know has been there. It’s a whole new adventure. It’s going to be fun and I’m going to have fun with it. It’s a once in a lifetime chance. There are a lot of people that want to go but they didn’t get to go. I want to have a lot of fun there and run a good race.” 