Louisa Belk will be among the most closely watched runners in the nation next year – and not just because she was unbeaten against Delaware competition this fall in her first year of competitive running.
The St. Andrew’s sophomore will seek to continue her ascent in cross country without running indoor or outdoor track. Belk’s school doesn’t compete in those sports, so she is swimming and will play lacrosse, where she made an impact as a freshman.
Her quest is unprecedented. There have been state champions who played other sports – Howard’s Henry Burton was All-State in basketball in 1958 and Padua’s Morgan Morrow was soccer player of the year in 2008 – but each also excelled in winter or spring track. No previous cross country champion has treated distance running as a one-season sport.
“I think it’s nice to have a different range of sports. It’s really fun to get not focused a lot on one sport. I’m really loving doing new things and want to cherish those moments as much as possible,” Belk said. “Swimming’s not my best sport, but it’s fun.”
“At this young level, they need that diversity of experience. It keeps them from getting mentally burnt out on one sport and keeps them fresh,” said St. Andrew’s coach Wilson Everhart, who is also the Saints’ crew coach.
“For my rowers in the spring, there’s a lot for them to be gained just in game experience, on the free-throw line, defending the Wing-T and getting up on the starting blocks in swimming – in fitness but also in game experience,” he said.
Belk brought much game experience but no racing experience this fall. Had St. Andrew’s not moved its girls soccer schedule to spring, she might have continued as a promising midfielder. Instead, 10 days after returning from summer workouts at her Charlotte, N.C., home, she debuted at the Lake Forest Invitational, accelerating over the final mile to pass 10 runners, finishing second to two-time D.C. champion Megan Wilson.
She was not beaten again, winning the Middletown, Salesianum, University of Delaware, Joe O’Neill, Independent, New Castle County and Division II meets.
Only once was she closely pressed, by Tatnall freshman Caroline Foley at the state meet.
“I tried to take the lead, but she wouldn’t let me,” said Foley. “She goes out really fast and hard, and she gaps a lot, which is really good.”
Belk’s schedule will likely expand outside of Delaware next year.
“I wish I had gotten her to the Manhattan race,” Everhart said. “A lot of what we’ll be doing is to see the season as an arc. I’d like to see her lose some races, then learn and apply those lessons to end-of-season races.”
Belk’s older sister also began cross country this fall. Molly Belk, a Williams College sophomore who helped carry St. Andrew’s to two state lacrosse tournament finals, finished 39th in the NCAA Division III meet, missing All-American status by four places.
Also on first-team All-State:
* Foley, a repeat selection as a ninth grader, second at the New Castle County and Joe O’Neill Meets.
* Adrienne Fraczkowski of Delaware Military Academy, the state’s top senior, second in Div. II.
* Tatnall junior Kieran Hanrahan, earning first-team All-State for the fourth time.
* Emily Paolucci, a repeat selection as a junior, who recovered from a painful sciatic nerve to win the Div. I championship and lead Padua to the top ranking in the state.
* Rebekah Mills, Caesar Rodney junior, a repeat selection, two-time Henlopen Conference champion.
* St. Mark’s sophomore Analise Kaminski, Catholic Conference champion.