Following is a reprint of my article published in our local newspaper, The Republican Herald, today.
Every once in a while, a coach is fortunate enough to mentor an athlete who possesses extraordinary talent as well as a good old-fashioned work ethic.
Last fall, at Penn State Schuylkill, Haylee Burnhauser, a Pottsville Area High School graduate, joined my cross country team. From her very first workout, she displayed dedication, determination and a love for the sport.
Throughout the Penn State University Athletic Conference invitational meet season in 2012, she finished either in first or second place, earning a berth for her and her teammates to the USCAA National Cross Country Championships.
At the PSUAC State Championships, she placed second, behind Penn State Wilkes-Barre's Alex Leandri. Leandri went on to finish second at nationals.
At the national meet in Lake Placid, N.Y., Burnhauser began her race on the frozen, snow-mottled course, far behind the lead pack. With a half mile to go, as she emerged from the woods, she had worked her way up to ninth place in a field of nearly 200 runners, earning second-team All-America status.
A difficult class schedule that keeps her busy until 4 p.m. on weekdays nearly prevented her from joining the team this year, but when practice began, she not only picked up where she left off last season, but she also surpassed it in every way.
This season, as a sophomore, she dominated the PSUAC. At the state championship meet two weeks ago, on a hilly course at Scranton, she finished more than a minute ahead of her nearest competitor. Her time was nearly two minutes faster than Leandri's winning state championship time of 2012. She became PSU-Schuylkill's first female state champion and the second state cross country champion in the past three years at PSU-Schuylkill.
On Friday, she will make her second trip to nationals, which will be held this year on a golf course in Syracuse, N.Y.
In races, on daily long distance workouts and speed work on the track, her times are far ahead of her standards of a year ago.
She wedges her workouts between a grueling radiology curriculum and a part-time job. She never relaxes during a workout, usually surpasses my goal times and expectations, and, in every way, is a coach's dream.
Thanks to her grade-point average of 3.60, she will receive Academic All-America honors at the runners' banquet, held the night before nationals. The next day, she will compete against 180 of the nation's best small- college runners, representing more than 50 schools.
Burnhauser has emerged as a seasoned, very smart runner. She possesses long, loping strides that seem to have increased in length this season, allowing her to cover large amounts of real estate with each step. At a meet in Wilkes-Barre earlier this fall, an opposing runner passed her near the halfway point of the race. Burnhauser countered the move, repassed her opponent, turned on a burst of speed and never looked back, defeating the challenger by more than a minute.
She is poised, confident and in excellent running condition.
At nationals, the sky's the limit.
Whatever the outcome, Haylee Burnhauser epitomizes the definition of a collegiate student-athlete.