SYMMES TWP. – Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy junior Rachel Haslem’s journey to selecting cross country as her sport might not be as long as the courses she runs, but it is as winding.
She chose swimming prior to her days at CHCA. Then, she was a volleyball player as a freshman, but wasn’t entirely enamored with it. As part of offseason workouts, student-athletes can participate in triathlons, where running is a significant part of the race. It’s here that the freshman Haslem found she had an affinity for it.
“It started with running five minutes at a time, then moved to 5Ks and on from there,” Haslem said. “J.P. Pancioli (one of the boys team’s top runners) and I took a liking to it, found out we weren’t half bad at it and both ended up joining the team.”
She fell fast and hard for the sport.
In the summer before sophomore year, she sent an email to coach Stephen Carter announcing her intention to join the program. She and Carter joke about how formal that email was now.
Her skills certainly aren’t a laughing matter though.
“Our boys and girls teams run together during practice and I usually run with them,” Carter said. “Two runs into practice, I hear footsteps behind me. I figured it was one of the guys, so I ran a little harder. Still hearing the footsteps, I looked back and there was Rachel. She caught up to me and eventually passed me.”
She went on to win several races that year and qualify for regionals. She was the program’s first runner to qualify in 6-7 years.
The beat rolled on this season.
She led the team in its Cincinnati Country Day Invitational win and helped it win the Norwood Indian Run. In the Mason Invitational earlier this month, Haslem took 11th in the Division I race. Carter said they entered her in that race because they wanted to see how she’d do against Division I competition.
Her time would have won her the Division II race, her normal race, ahead of Mariemont’s Marin Valentine.
She won the Miami Valley Conference, the district race and took ninth in the regional race.
Haslem finished in 77th in the Division II girls state race at National Trail Raceway in Hebron earlier last month.
“One of the big things I noticed was how different it was from the regional race,” Haslem said. “I’m used to being alone near the front, but there is such good competition. You’re motivated to keep up with the faster runners, but it’s hard to keep that pace because you don’t want to burn out. Your mindset has to be different.”
The junior was the program’s first state qualifier in 10 years or so.
When Carter was standing at the starting line with Haslem, he reflected on the program and how it has turned around in such a short time.
“I said something to the effect of ‘can you believe we have a runner here right now?’ ” Carter said. “And she turned around and said ‘get used to it because you’ll see seven of us here next year.’”
True to form, Haslem has already sent an email, less formal than the original, about what she was planning on doing to improve over the summer.
“That’s the kind of kid she is,” her coach said.