If you aren't familiar with Madelyn Dinneen, you're not alone.
The Norwood-Norfolk sophomore runs at a tiny, upstate school so close to the Canadian border that she should probably have dual citizenship. Combine that with the fact that she rarely runs outside the North Country and that she is not tested as much as many of her downstate counterparts and it's easy to see how she can be overlooked.
Disregarding Dinneen, however, could prove foolish when it comes time for the state meet later this winter. She had success last winter and spring despite not often venturing far from home and based on how she is prepping for this year's "post-season" she could away with the title "Queen of the North".
Dinneen has only run in one big event this winter aside from the weekly scrums with other Section 10 schools against which Norwood-Norfolk competes. She had a strong showing at the TCITL Frank De Masi Invite in Utica last month, taking first in the 1,500 meters with a personal-best 4:45.74 and second in the 1000 meters with a personal-best 3.07.18.
"When I first started running, I wasn't number one [in my events] and I moved my way into that spot," Dinneen, 15, said. "Now that I am there, there is no one pushing me. I feel like I race by myself a lot. The weekly meets we have, I just race against the clock. When I went to Utica, it was nice to have competition. It's hard when you want to run a certain time and you don't have people around you that run those times. It makes it difficult.
"The runners in Sections like 1 and 3 get that competition all the time. Everyone has a different goal to be in a certain place or to beat a certain person and since I moved into this spot it's me against me. I focus on myself and my times. When I go to states or a bigger meet I change that mindset to place in a certain spot or beat a certain person."
Dinneen isn't being cocky, just realistic. The pool of runners up north simply isn't large enough and one very good runner can easily dominate as she done. Norwood-Norfolk coach Gino Bisceglia understands Dinneen's plight. He ran for Norwood-Norfolk and was the state champ in the 600 in 2007. He faced many of the same issues that Dinneen is now facing.
"We have probably one of the biggest counties and we do not have a lot of people competing to run indoor," he said. "So, you just have to run for time and do a lot of visualization. You just have to have a different mindset. I try to use my experiences to help. I always try to talk shop with her to keep her motivation up. It's definitely tough because sometimes it's difficult to not have the best competition until the end of the year at the state meet."
When Dinneen does reach that grander stage, however, certainly knows how to perform. She took eighth in the State cross country championships in November with a personal-best time 17:27. That came on the heels of winning the 5,000 meters in the Section 10 Interdivisional Meet and the Section 10 championship.
She was 22nd in the state in the 800 meters and 14th in the 1500 meters in last spring's state meet. She also placed 13th in the freshman mile at The New Balance National Outdoor Championships last June.
"[December] was my first time I went out of Section 10 for an indoor meet except for states," she said. "It was different. To go to a college, on a much bigger track, I felt nervous. I didn't know what to expect going in. I don't run against those people a lot.
"The nerves will make me more prepared for states, though. When I got those nerves it was a good experience to be in a heat with people who run closer to my times. And I don't mean that to be disparaging to anyone [in Section 10]. I'm saying it respectfully."
While Dinneen has been dominant on the track, she's also been as effective on the ice. She's played ice hockey for the better part of a decade and continues to skate for the Norwood-Norfolk North Stars 16U team. The 5-foot-4 Dinneen, who plays center, has practice several days a week with games on weekends. There have been a precious few conflicts with track so she continues to play. How long she continues, though, remains to be seen.
Track remains her biggest passion and she hopes to run at the Division I level in college. She has played many sports including baseball, lacrosse and soccer, but when she reached seventh grade she had to decide between playing softball and running track in the spring. Dinneen's mom steered her towards the track and she fell in love. So much so that she is considering giving up hockey next winter.
"We have two practices a week and games in the weekend but it's not as bad as it used to be," Dinneen said of the dual schedule. "I need to make sure I get my rest because it can be overwhelming, especially during cross country season. That can be a little difficult because you have to know when you can take time off and when to go hard. That's one of the things I am debating about next year, whether I should focus more on running and working out in the gym [rather than playing hockey]."
Dinneen believes her future is with running and that even if she gets a hockey scholarship somewhere, she won't take it. She says the only way she would play hockey in college is if she suffers a serious injury that would prevent her from running. Her primary focus is on running and her coach appreciates her approach.
"She's a hard worker," Bisceglia said. "She always likes to try and improve and see what extra stuff she can do to be a better runner. She's wicked competitive which is great. She is aggressive and has a great work ethic. She's a pleasure to coach."