For the more than 30 years, Gatorade has honored the nation’s most elite high school athletes for their athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character with the Gatorade Player of the Year award. On July 13, the 12 Gatorade National Players of the Year from the 2015-16 season will gather in Hollywood, where the 13th annual Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year award will be presented to the best overall male and female athlete.
In the days leading to the presentation, USA TODAY High School Sports will profile each of the 12 candidates — six boys and six girls.
This installment features National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year Sydney McLaughlin from Union Catholic in Scotch Plains, N.J..
A two-time Gatorade State Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year, McLaughlin won the 400-meter intermediate hurdles at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor championships with a time of 54.46 seconds, breaking a 32-year-old national prep record set by former U.S. Olympian Leslie Maxie in 1984. A three-time national champion in the event, the 5-foot-8 hurdler eclipsed the previous standard by a yawning 0.74 seconds and the time ranks as the World No. 1 among U-20 competitors in 2016. Her 400-meter dash time of 51.87 at the state Meet of Champions is the fastest U-18 time in the world this year, broke her own state record and ranks No. 1 among U.S. prep competitors in 2016.
On Sunday, McLaughlin qualified for the Rio Olympics.
“In a year saturated with an unprecedented number of international-level prep stars across the country, Sydney has clearly emerged as the nation’s supernova,” said Rich Gonzalez of Track & Field News. “Competing in the sport’s most physically grueling event, her incredible stamina and exceptional rhythm over the hurdles at such an early stage of her career makes her the nation’s best prospect among the few elite high schoolers slated to compete at next month’s U.S. Olympic Trials.”
McLaughlin’s season-best time in the 400-meter dash is the 15th-fastest in U.S. prep history. She also owns this season’s national No. 14 wind-legal clocking in the 200-meter dash (23.53). Her historic 50.93 auto-timed 400-meter split at NBNO anchored Union Catholic’s national prep record-breaking Swedish medley relay quartet (2:07.9). McLaughlin swept the 400-meter dash and the 400-meter hurdles (56.23) at the state Meet of Champions this spring. She also ran the second leg of the winning 4×400-meter relay quartet, which broke the tape at the MOC in 3:46.68. In addition, McLaughlin swept the 400 (52.44) and the 400 hurdles (57.37) at the Non-Public A group championships, leading the Vikings to the team title.
MORE: Q&A with McLaughlin
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the track. McLaughlin is now a finalist for the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
McLaughlin has maintained a 3.55 GPA in the classroom. A volunteer for the Central Jersey Chapter of Hope Worldwide, McLaughlin has participated in multiple community service projects throughout Perth Amboy, including distributing fire safety and disaster relief information to residents on behalf of the American Red Cross. She has also donated her time to Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts in Toms River, especially the cleanup of Cattus Island County Park. In addition to serving as a soup kitchen staffer and as part of a teen outreach project in association with her church community, McLaughlin has assisted at a local youth track event as a meet official. The founder of her school’s Juggling Club, she volunteered at an area juggling camp last summer.