FAIRFIELD, Conn. – In her first year of running cross country for Fairfield Warde, Cate Allen has made a statement in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference. The best may be yet to come.
Allen, a junior, will be among the favorites for the individual championship in Thursday’s league championship meet at New Canaan’s Waveny Park. Allen has lost to only one other league runner this fall, Darien’s Anne Johnston. Those two girls, along with Claire Howlett of Westhill and Hannah DeBalsi of Staples, have emerged as the league frontrunners.
Allen’s arrival is the most surprising. She started on the Warde girls soccer team last fall and helped it reach the league championship game. After a terrific outdoor track season in the spring, Allen decided to pursue running as a full-time sport.
“I was thinking about it before my sophomore year, so I don’t think my soccer coach was surprised,’’ she said. “It was hard, because I had been playing soccer for so long. As soon as I decided to switch, I didn’t regret it one bit. I’m enjoying this season.”
Warde coach Tim Foster has had a history of former soccer players making a successful switch. Harry Warnick, now a redshirt freshman on the track and cross country teams at Villanova University, also played soccer. Meg Ryan, a junior runner at Notre Dame, also made the transition.
“I try to be hands off,’’ Foster said when young athletes consider the option to switch sports in high school. “I think it’s appropriate to mention it, but it was really her decision. I think it has been in the back of her mind for a couple of years.”
Allen came on strong during the spring, finishing sixth in the 1,600 at the State Open and second in the same race at the Class L championships. But cross country races are longer, and the homework has to be done with summer training runs.
“I’m a little bit surprised, but I worked hard during the summer,’’ Allen said. “Our whole team has done well. I think it’s great. Cross country is an entirely different race. I enjoy the mile, but I like doing the longer distances, too. Running on the grass and hills is fun.”
Foster thinks Allen will continue to develop as she gains experience and fitness. “She’s a tremendous athlete,’’ he said. “She has a nature talent for running. She’s always in shape, but this year there’s definitely a difference. This is the best shape I’ve seen her.”
Thursday’s race shapes up as an interesting one. Johnston has won every race against league competition this season, including a 30-second win over Allen in the first race of the season. Allen tends to hang back a little longer but has a stronger kick. If Allen can keep close to Johnston into the last 400 meters, her closing speed might give her an advantage.
“It’s a pretty tough course, and it’s 4 kilometers instead of 5,’’ Allen said. “I have great respect for her. Almost everyone is going to have a strong kick. I think it’s going to come down to the last 100 meters.”