One of Kentucky’s most decorate cross country athletes is heading to the East Coast to continue her running career.
Collins High School’s athletics department announced on Thursday afternoon via their official Twitter account that Gabriella Karas has committed to the University of Virginia.
“I took one of my official visits there and after my official visit it was where I wanted to go,” Karas said in a phone interview. “It was a beautiful school and I liked the team and the coach.”
Karas also had interest from Ole Miss, South Carolina, Kentucky, NC State, and her sister Caterina’s alma mater Xavier among other schools.
The senior won her first cross country state title as a seventh grader in 2011 and won each of the next three events, cementing her status as one of the top runners in the state and region. Following her fourth state title, USA TODAY named her Kentucky Girls Cross Country Rookie of the Year and Karas competed at the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego in December 2014, finishing in ninth place overall with a time of 17:56.43.
“It was definitely something I would never have expected, and even when it was happening I couldn’t process it from the start,” Karas said. “But as I’ve gotten older and been injured the past year, I’m fortunate I was able to compete at a younger age, because you never know if you’ll get injured. So I was glad I got four years.”
Karas not only won those four consecutive state titles in cross country but also has three of the four best times at Kentucky Horse Park. Karas set the 5,000 meter run record at the Paddock Course in 2012 with a time of 17:44.18, and then broke her own record a year later with a time of 17:39.04.
“She’s been a winner in all senses of the word since she was young, younger than most kids could think of, and she’s just that talented,” Collins track and field coach Sean Roberts said. “She’s got a big heart too which makes it fun to watch her run and win. It makes the sport more enjoyable when she’s in the race.”
Coming off her impressive four-year run, injuries and illness have kept Karas from defending her state titles in cross country and track and field. Karas suffered from shin splints in the 2015 fall season and then later suffered a concussion in a car accident that kept her out the 2016 spring track and field season.
She was recovering in time to compete in the regional and state tournaments this past fall during cross country but after feeling hip pain, an MRI disclosed that she had a stress fracture at the top of her hip, ruling her out for a minimum of eight weeks.
“Running is all a mental game,” Karas said. “If you want it in your heart bad enough you can come back from anything.”
Karas revealed that she was cleared on Thursday to begin rehabbing her hip injury, but she said she’s going to take it slow in the recovery process.
“It depends how everything goes and because of where my stress fracture was, I don’t want to mess around with it,” Karas said of competing in track and field events this spring. “But I’m not in a rush to compete this year. Of course I want to get in some races before I get to college but I’m not in a rush to do indoor (track). I’m going to take my time completely healing and getting back into shape.”
Karas plans to sign her letter-of-intent on April 1 when the signing period reopens.