The Next Chapter

  • January 18, 2010 12:25 PM
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By Steve Stone for MSNsportsNET.com
January 18, 2010

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – With the West Virginia University track and field program earning a No. 22 ranking in the USTFCCCA preseason poll, it will be experienced runners like junior Kaylyn Christopher who will need to uphold that lofty standing this season.

Christopher, a rising distance runner on this year’s squad, is part of West Virginia’s distance medley relay team that finished 10th at the 2009 NCAA Indoor Championships. The well-spoken veteran is excited about the possibilities for the DMR squad this season, and remains somewhat critical of the way it finished in last year’s championship.

  Junior Kaylyn Christopher has excelled in both cross country and track and field at West Virginia.
Tad Davis photo

“It’ll be a little bit different because last season our 800-meter leg, Karly Hamric, ran her last indoor season,” Christopher said. “Throughout the season, myself, Keri Bland, Marie-Louise Asselin, April Rotilio and Karly shifted a little bit. The rest of us are back and we’re hoping to do better than last year. We were a little disappointed with 10th-place because eighth and above is All-America level.”

Finishing in the upper percentile at the national level would satisfy many schools across the country, but Christopher knows the legitimacy of the track and field program at WVU. She and her teammates are shooting for a spot on the stage as All-Americans, knowing their year-round commitment to one of the school’s most successful programs will pay off.

“I guess you’d always like to shoot for the highest you can,” Christopher said when asked where this year’s group could finish. “The goal is always winning, but as the season goes on and the chips fall, you see what can be more realistic.”

Last week, the Kingwood, W.Va., native competed at the Penn State Northeast Challenge against a host of other runners. She used the meet as a warm-up event for the rest of the indoor season, finishing 11th in the 500-meter race. Christopher also teamed with Clara Grandt, Mandy McBean and Brittany Wolford to finish second in the DMR with a time of 12:08:82.

“We go to Penn State a lot. We use these early-season meets to run in an event that isn’t typically what we usually run,” Christopher mentioned before the meet. “We use it to get used to the faster-paced style. For the sprinters, it’s real competitive for them, but for the distance runners, it’s something we use to play around with events that aren’t typical for us.”

Christopher came to WVU in 2008 from Preston High, enjoying immediate success in her freshman season. She helped set a school outdoor record in the DMR at the Penn Relays, and posted an NCAA Regional qualifying mark in the 1,500-meter, which culminated with a 27th-place finish at the NCAA Outdoor Regionals.

She feels that part of success can be attributed to coach Sean Cleary, who has single-handedly built WVU’s cross country and track and field programs to nationally elite clubs. Christopher met Cleary early in her high school years and developed a bond that led her to Morgantown.

“It’s definitely a good relationship,” Christopher added. “I’ve known him since I’ve been in 10th grade, so I started coming to the West Virginia Flyers Track Club in the winters to get out of the snow and get some practice in. By talking to him through the years, that really affected my decision in coming here. I had already built a good relationship with him, not only as a runner but as a person, and that really builds a necessary trust between an athlete and a coach.”

Christopher’s greatest accomplishments in high school certainly came on the track, winning the Gatorade Track Athlete of the Year as a junior and becoming a three-time state champion in the 1,600-meter run. But it was another sport that helped drive her interest into track and field, and through some good advice she decided to measure her ability as a distance runner.

“I guess it kind of started in basketball,” the 800-meter state record holder said. “I was the person who would always run down the floor and they would get me the ball because I could run a little faster than everyone. My gym teachers told me I should try out for the track team, and initially I was just going to be a sprinter and run like 100’s or 200’s, and I tried out for cross country and was pretty good at the distance events.

Christopher was an important part of West Virginia’s sixth-place finish at the 2009 NCAA Cross Country Championships, racing to 87th-place with a time of 21:21. But she admits that track and field season is what she treasures most, whether it’s the indoor or outdoor season.

“In high school we only have an outdoor team, and I’ve only ran one outdoor season for WVU and one indoor season for WVU,” Christopher said. “I’m pretty new to the whole indoor atmosphere, but based on the way we performed last year, I really love it. It’s a lot of fun. For me, track season is better than cross country season. I think when you’re on the track you feel fast.”

Fortunately, Christopher will have another year following the 2010 season to enhance her skills and improve her speed. But after her senior year, the news-editorial major sees herself making a career in feature writing. She enjoys a good story and believes her ability to intrigue a reader is something she can take stock in.

“I’m still in journalism, but I plan to double-major in philosophy as well,” the Big East Academic All-Star mentioned. “I’ve always enjoyed writing in English classes; that was always one of the things I liked doing growing up. In high school, I did things like the newspaper staff or the yearbook staff.

“I’ve found my niche in journalism. I’m not as much into news writing as I am in feature writing. I wouldn’t rather do anything else.”

If she continues her impressive career and helps WVU legitimize its preseason ranking, then Christopher can end up writing her own success story.