Early in the outdoor track season, Amanda Bakley ran the steeplechase only because her Pennsauken High School coach wanted the distance runner to stay active and log another workout at the Woodbury Relays.
“The whole reason I put her in Woodbury was really to get her a second race that day,” Indians girls’ track coach Phil Zimmerman said. “She ran the distance medley that morning at Woodbury and I really didn’t have anything else for her to do the rest of the day.
“I never like to give anyone one race, especially that early in the season.”
Bakley finished her stunning outdoor season on Saturday by placing second in the 2,000 meter steeplechase at the New Balance National Outdoor High School Track & Field Championships.
“It still hasn’t hit me,” said Bakley, who will be a senior in the fall, about earning All-American status. “For everyone else it is a big deal, but I’m new to running, I only started last year, so I’m not fully exposed to it and don’t see the big picture.
“But I’m pretty happy with myself.”
Bakley was the highest finisher in the nationals at Greensboro, N.C. from South Jersey.
Briana Gess of Haddonfield took fourth in the mile with a 4:51.44. The Lenape girls placed fifth in the Super Sprint Medley Relay with a 4:01.07 while the Egg Harbor Township boys placed sixth in the 800 Sprint Medley Relay with a 1:32.98.
Bakley won the silver medal despite that Pennsauken doesn’t even have a steeplechase course.
“I have a couple 30-inch boxes we do jumps on that are the same height as the barriers,” Zimmerman said. “Most girls do a hurdle technique, but she puts one foot on each barrier. We work on that technique and she seems to be more efficient.”
Bakley was the final seed by time in the steeplechase field of 23 competitors. She ran in the first heat – the slower one of the two sections. She clocked a 6:57.49, nearly 20 seconds faster than her qualifying time.
Her time held up for the second fastest after the second heat and was just five seconds off of the winning time by Alex Harris of North Rockland (N.Y.).
Bakley’s time was the third fastest ever in New Jersey and the best this season. She also holds the best time this season in the state for the 3,000 steeplechase with an 11:25.79 set at the Woodbury Relays.
“The only 2,000 steeplechase she had run was at the Rowan Relays the first weekend of May,” Zimmerman said. “We went there to try and get her to qualify for nationals after what she did at Woodbury.
“She won by 30 seconds and looked good in the process, so I figured let’s run with this and see what we got,” Zimmerman said.
The steeplechase consists of five jumps in every lap.
“Jumping doesn’t bother her that much,” Zimmerman said. ”She is very athletic. She play soccer and ice hockey, so she has really good lower body strength.”
Bakley placed seventh in the 1,600 at the Group 3 sectionals with a 5:11.33. In the 3,200, she clocked a 10:59.56 for second place at the sectionals. Both times are school records.
She is now gaining recruiting interest for the steeplechase.
“She drew some pretty good attention down there,” Zimmerman said.
“A lot has hit me at once,” Bakley said about the increased attention by colleges. “It’s a lot to think about. It can be kind of overwhelming.”
Bakley, who also plays soccer for Pennsauken, starting playing ice hockey in the Ed Snyder Youth Hockey Foundation at the Skate Zone in Pennsauken in sixth grade.
“I liked playing with the boys’ teams because it was more competition,” Bakley said. “It was fun and a way to stay in shape.
“It is probably from all the sports I do and I probably benefit from them somehow,” Bakley added when asked how she is excelling at steeplechase. “They probably got me strong enough for this event, especially hockey because there is a lot of stopping and work on your legs.”
Speed and lower body strength is needed in the steeplechase.
“It’s a grueling event,” Zimmerman said. “It is a war of attrition because every lap you’re likely going to get slower than the previous lap.”
Bakley, however, is not just strong physically.
“Nobody I coached works harder than this kid,” Zimmerman said. “She is very focused and determined. It is really impressive to see what she has done since November in indoor.
“It is pretty meteoric and she worked for every inch of it.”
Kevin Callahan; (856) 486-2424; email@example.com