Bolts' runner finally accepts her abilities

By JOSH FRIEDMAN • Staff Writer • October 2, 2009

Alyssa Harris didn't want to embrace her talent for distance running.

The Millville High School junior would've loved to be a sprinter or a basketball star, but her aptitude for traveling vast distances in short times recently shined through on a national stage.

Harris won 3,000-meter at the AAU Junior Olympics at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa in August.

I kind of realized it was my best event, so I have to stay with it, she said. And look where it's got me now.

Harris carried the momentum from her first-ever track victory to the cross country season where she has won all five races she has entered this year, including victories at the Cherokee Challenge and South Jersey Shootout.

I think she's accepted the fact that she's a pretty good distance runner and that's really where her future lies and so she bought into training this year, coach Bob Porch said.

Harris showed a flair for cross country during her sophomore campaign, her first year in the sport. She took ninth at the Cape-Atlantic League Championships (19:31.04) and was third in the Cumberland County Meet (20:19).

I said (to her last year), 'You basically can become one of the best runners in South Jersey,' Porch said. 'It's basically how much do you want it? How much are you going to train and those sorts of things.' But she has that kind of ability. She has a very high ceiling.

It was during the spring track season, however, that her penchant for distance running really burst through.

Coach Raffael Craig threw Harris into the 3,200 and, in just her second attempt at the distance, she broke the school record in 11:17.15 at the Rowan University Girls' High School Open.

I was very upset, said Harris, who was disappointed she did so well. When I first started track, I thought I was going to be a sprinter.

Her discontent with distance running didn't stop Craig, who's also her AAU coach, from pushing her.

To come out her first year running the two mile and take the school record, that's impressive, he said.

Craig convinced Harris to run the 3,000 during the summer, and her big AAU victory prompted more rigorous training for the high school season.

Last year she kind of ran herself into shape during the season, Porch said. This year, she came into shape at the beginning of the season.

Harris was also motivated by the Thunderbolts' roster changes. Gone are long-time superstars Lindsay Bertulis and twin sisters Brooke and Britney Kott. Now, she knows she can win.

It's weird, it's very weird to be like, Oh, I finished first, Harris said. I knew I wasn't going to win (last year).

Harris still thinks about other events, but has settled into her new role.

If I was a 100 (-meter sprinter), it would just be amazing, she said. It's just 100 meters and I'm done. But I'm glad I'm good at what I do because there aren't really many distance people. It's harder to qualify for the 100 than distance. I realized that.