Lexy Halladay wasn’t particularly fond of the long-legged gray and white spider crawling toward her on a picnic bench during an interview last week at Ann Morrison Park.
As she leaned away from the approaching arachnid, the Mountain View High freshman seemed like a typical teenager.
But there have been many times over the past few years when Halladay has been anything but typical.
Barely a month into her first varsity cross country season, Halladay has won both races she’s entered and owns the top time in the state, winning the 5,000-meter Tiger-Grizz Invitational in Idaho Falls on Sept. 9 in 18 minutes, 19.3 seconds.
She crossed the finish line more than 40 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Rachel Morrin of Madison, the reigning 5A state champion.
“She wants to be great. Most people would consider her great right now, and she wants to be better than that,” Mountain View coach Tracy Harris said. “That’s awesome, because a lot of kids that good would be like, ‘Hey, I’m already this good, I’m just going to settle.’ She works harder than anybody.”
As an eighth grader in March at Lake Hazel Middle School in Meridian, and with encouragement from YMCA Team Idaho Director Tim Severa, Halladay petitioned to compete in the high school mile at the New Balance Nationals Indoor track and field meet in New York.
Halladay’s petition was accepted, and she finished 10th in 4:48.43, competing against the top prep runners in the country.
The winner, Katie Rainsberger, was the reigning Nike Cross Nationals Final champion, and runner-up Kate Murphy made it to the semifinals in the 1,500 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials in July. Both were seniors in high school.
“After the race, I was kind of mad. I am so competitive, and it wasn’t the place I wanted, but the time was still really fast,” Halladay said. “After a couple minutes, I went on my cool down and I finally got to calm down and realize what the time actually was. At that time, it was the fastest I had run, so I was super excited about that.”
The true mile is nine meters longer than the 1,600 run by high school athletes at the state track meet. Borah’s Sara Christianson — who trained with Halladay during the indoor season and now runs at Oregon State — set the state meet record in May, running 4:53.86. Halladay clocked a 4:46.47 in a middle school 1,600 race last spring, and her time ranked No. 1 in the nation among eighth graders, according to athletic.net.
“There’s no doubt she’s the best runner we’ve ever had already, I think,” said Severa, who has been coaching in Idaho for 38 years. “But she has to go out and prove it on the track, and so far she’s done pretty well.”
She is such a bright person, and she has such an amazing personality that it makes everybody on the team want to work harder and keep up with her. She pushes our team, and it is such a fantastic dynamic that we have this year. Kenzie Porter, Mountain View cross country runner
It has been a quick ascension for a 15-year-old whose running career started on a bet.
In the fifth grade, her dad, Scot Halladay, said he would give her $50 if she could run the mile in 5:30. She missed by one second — running in jeans — which made her “mad” and fueled her to keep running.
“That’s when I noticed that I would be good at running, but I didn’t officially get started until seventh grade cross country,” Halladay said.
“Good” hardly scratches the surface.
Harris talked to Halladay’s parents about having her run on Mountain View’s varsity team as an eighth grader.
“It was tempting. I threw the idea to her dad,” Harris said. “And she wanted to, but then senior year she would have been done.”
High school athletes are allowed only four years of varsity competition.
Added Halladay’s mom, Jenn: “We thought about it because we just knew running in middle school she would be so far ahead, but it worked out because we put her in indoor track, and that allowed her to run against high schools, and she was quite successful.”
Halladay’s impressive times against much older competitors have brought with them elevated expectations for someone so young and relatively new to the sport.
“I think in the next Olympic Trials (in 2020), you’ll probably see Lexy Halladay competing,” Severa said.
Somehow, she takes the pressure in stride.
“We’re just kind of taking it a season at a time with her. What’s impressive is how well she handles it,” Jenn Halladay said. “I think she has it in the back of her mind and I think that is a definite goal for her, but she doesn’t let it affect her negatively. I think she lets it motivate her, and she loves it so much.”
Mountain View headed to Minnesota
The Mavericks will compete in the 31st annual Roy Griak Invitational on Saturday in Falcon Heights, Minn. It is one of the largest cross country meets in the nation and features college and prep runners, although not in the same race. The meet will allow freshman standout Lexy Halladay and her Maverick teammates to test their legs against some of the nation’s best. The Mavericks’ girls team has won team titles at the two meets they’ve competed in this season, and they’re among the favorites to compete for a state title in October.