How To Succeed As A 7th Grade Standout?


The New York T&F girls have dominated at Nationals meets for many years now, and one of the reasons is that the squads are fed by a constant stream of young athletes who may end up as tough-as-nails veterans by the end of their 7th grade year. Very young tracksters have been making their mark in NY events for more than four decades, and the trend has been accelerating in recent times.

Fifty or more 7th-grade girls may get results among athletes in some events, whereas the 7th-grade boys top out at 13 for an event among all athletes. The 7th-grade girls also usually populate the ranks of all the listed events except the specialty javelin and hammer throw categories, but the 7th-grade boys are almost absent from all weight events and are also scarce in the horizontal and vertical jumping events.

Why do the rookie girls do so much better than the guys? The oft-cited reasons that girls begin adolescent development one to two years before boys is certainly the big element here, but there are a host of spin-off factors from there that go beyond the physical changes. As often proclaimed, "Running is 99% mental," and young teen girls are also far advanced up between the ears and in all social aspects over their far goofier male classmates. That doesn't mean that coaching 7th-grade girls is easier than guys of that age, but you do have a lot more upside for a focused and determined girl.

Holly Cavalluzzo of Valley Central was the lead-off leg and part of another
sister act at States as a 7th grader in 2008 when she teamed with her
senior sister Jackie on the Vikings' 4th place 4x800 squad.

Experience and opportunity are also key parts to the story of NY's precocious track girls. It starts in the fall with the cross country season with the appearance of a few newbie girls who have enough muscles to go fast but not enough body mass to be gravitationally affected while bounding up and down hills. By November they may already be grizzled veterans of the trails and ready to make a big splash in track, especially outdoors in the steeplechase. Seven 7th-grade XC girls ranked among the top 100 in one of the four XC classes (as rated by Tully Runners) and five were at States, with Teagan Wright finishing as the third runner for Class D champ Greenwich and Catalina Ersing as the second runner for Class C runner-up Newfane. For the boys the numbers were zero and one, Delhi's Luke Schnabel.

Usually the quickest opportunities for a 7th grader to star will be at a small school where the competition both on her team and against other squads will be less intense. The flip side of that though is that some of the big Class A in XC or Division 1 track teams have a history of developing top distance runners at an early age, especially up in Section 2. Returning again to 7th graders in XC, both McKinley Wheeler and Sheridan Wheeler went to NXN Nationals with Saratoga and Skyler Knott filled the role of the eighth runner for the Blue Streaks, while Kayleigh Higgins of Shaker and Rylee Davis of Bethlehem were among the top 100 Class A runners.

Finally, the 7th grade girls are much more physically on par with older T&F girls, and sometimes even have possible advantages in long distance events such as the 3000 meters and the steeplechase. Not even the top 7th-grade triple-jumping boy can crack the top 1000 overall in the state, but Sweet Home's Amari Hall is 221st this year and Mohonasen's Courtney Bush was 112th last year. When at the Rockland County championship in 2015 a pair of 7th graders named Katelyn Tuohy and Mary Hennelly lined up for the 3000 on the way to a 1-2 finish, their fellow top-flight competitors all knew that youth would likely be served. And Tuohy also won the 1500 there ahead of fellow North Rockland teammate and national steeplechase champ Alex Harris.

At 2010 XC States, Maple Grove 7th graders Hope Pietrocarlo and Megan Marsh finished 4th and 5th in the Class D race to help lead the Red Dragons to their first state championship, and in June 2011 they ran together on their 4x800 relay team at States.

But nailing down the fact that you have a shot to be a young T&F star as a girl still leaves open the question of which events you should be getting prepped for. The answer is anything that requires running, and the more of it the better. Everybody knows how to run and some harried parents of toddlers swear that their kids were running around in circles (good for the 400 meters and up, at least with a leftward turn) as soon as they left the womb. No one is born with an innate sense of how to pole vault or do that TJ hop-skip-jump thing or spin for a discus throw. And though some would argue that walking comes before running, the form of a race walker is one that any young child would reject as just too weird.

There are an infinite amount of things to learn about running well, but we all can at least fake some speed the first time we line up for the 100 meters. Novice high jumpers are often a complete mess, going off two feet and landing on their face. Still if you want to brave the field events experience right off the bat, this year Stephanie Weiner of Central Islip with a 147th best long jump, Miranda Burgett of Williamsville North with a 171st in the high jump, and Uchenna Uba of Ravena with a 246th best mark in the discus all joined triple jumper Amari Hall in showing that a few 7th graders do have some hops.

So, okay, as a 7th grader you usually don't have either the experience or physique to excel in most of the field events, especially the weight events that also require a lot more size and strength than is packaged in the average rookie. Running is the answer, but do you go long or short or hang out in the middle? The answer is that all of the running events seem to have opportunities for the girls, even if the long-distance XC veterans may have the greatest chances for track success overall. But in 2018 VSN's Tori Daniels showed that a flat-out fast young runner can speed her way into the top 70 of all athletes in the 100, 200, and especially her top event, the 400. Last year Olean's Kaniya Johnson and Valley Stream Central's Olivia Miller also burned the mondo in the 100, and along with Daniels they help to answer that question about why T&F may be the chimera sport.

Fayetteville-Manlius's Phoebe White was another 7th grader attracted to the steeplechase back in 2015.

With all due respect to the sprinters and middle-distance runners, the long runs are where 7th graders have most consistently found success. This year Higgins is rated 39th in the 3000, which is a little ahead of Daniels' unusually strong 52nd ranking for the 400. Last year Johnson's 53rd ranking in the 100 was best among 7th graders in all events, but Camden's Elizabeth Lucason had a pair of top 100 rankings in the 1500 and 3000 that averaged a little better than Johnson's 100 and 200 leaders. There have been a trio of top 20 rankings for 7th graders in the last four years, as Katelyn Tuohy finished 4th in the 3000 and 19th in the 1500 in 2015, while Mary Hennelly was 9th in the steeple. A year later, Olmstead's Miquela Hunter posted the 27th best overall 200 while speeding to a D2 3rd place at States, and a 26th best in the 400. Also from 2016, one of most awe-inspiring marks is the 112th best score for Kayla Myers of Williamsville East in the grueling pentathlon event.

An encouraging message to young ones who are running in a race with an out-of-bounds phenom like Katelyn Tuohy and find themselves a half-lap or more down in a race midway through. The same issue was true for Nanuet's Megan Young and Rye Neck's Natalie Tanner in the Section 1 State Qualifier in May 2012 when Mary Cain set a state freshman class record in the 1500. The following November at XC States, Young won the Class B title and Tanner won the Class C crown, so never give up hope.

A last note on the relative merit of overall rankings for 7th graders in T&F. There are a few events such as the race walk and hammer throw that average less than 250 participants statewide during the outdoor track season. Sure you could swing the hammer out 15 feet and still finish among the top 120 throwers, but there is likely to be little glory in the effort, and the hammer throw is not an event that most coaches would think suitable for a smaller-sized 7th grade athlete.

Tori Daniels of Valley Stream North in the 400 at States this year.

Emma Gallagher of Garden City is the only 7th grader in the last
12 years to run on a Federation champ relay team, the 4x800
squad in 2010. She later ran for Benjamin Cardozo.

7th grader Brooke Rauber of Tully was the top seed of her 3000 section in 2016 and finished 4th
in D2.