As a freshman, Centennial’s Sydney Badger was an “also ran” as the end of last year’s cross country season.
She finished a credible 11th at the Class 4A state meet while running as an individual, but was overshadowed by two other Sunset Region runners, Palo Verde freshman Katie Gorczyca and Arbor View junior Andrea Gonzalez.
But the spring track season saw Badger emerge as the top female distance runner in Southern Nevada. She completed the “distance triple” at the Sunset Region meet, winning the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters. For good measure, she anchored Centennial’s winning 3,200 relay team.
At the state meet, Badger placed second in the 1,600 and 3,200, losing to runners from the North, and Centennial’s girls charged to the 4A team title.
“It is my intention to pick things up where I left off last May,” Badger said. “There are some very talented runners to compete against. It will be tough; I just hope to do my best.”
Roy Sessions, who has taken over as Centennial’s girls cross country coach after leading the Bulldogs to the track title in the spring, called Badger “special.”
“Sydney is special because she is so new to running,” Sessions said. “She’s like a sponge; she soaks up everything and tries to learn all she can. She has a tremendous upside and will go far and do well in running as long as she keeps the same approach she has now.”
Centennial’s boys, led by Nick Hartle, are the defending state cross country champions, so Badger would appear to benefit from that. Centennial’s girls also have a winning tradition. They were state champions in 2000 and Sunset champions five times since the school opened in 1999, most recently in 2007 and 2008.
“The only way being a part of a great running tradition can impact my running is in a good way,” Badger said. “It pushes me to do better. I do ‘run for fun,’ but it’s only fun if I know I’ve given it my all.”
Centennial’s girls failed to qualify for last year’s state meet, sending three individuals, and they graduated their No. 2 runner behind Badger. With only two teams qualifying for state this year as the meet returns to Reno, defending champion Palo Verde and Arbor View appear to have the inside track.
“We are not focusing on the girls who are gone, but we are focusing on (Badger’s) development, the team’s development and building a program around her and some of the other girls, teaching them to run for each other,” Sessions said. “I believe we will have a good season.”
Centennial’s girls came out blazing in their season opener Tuesday at Floyd Lamb Park, facing Shadow Ridge and Arbor View, both state qualifiers in 2010. Badger covered the 2.9-mile course in 17 minutes, 50 seconds, nearly two minutes ahead of the runner-up.
Badger’s time converted to a 5K would be 19:04. Her personal best in 2010 was 20:35.
Asked if she prefers track to cross country, Badger is diplomatic.
“I like them equally because they both have their positives,” she said. “You get to run more of a variety in track, but for cross country, it’s nice to get away from running in circles. As long as I’m running long distances, I’m happy.”