WESTPORT, Conn. – Staples High School freshman Hannah DeBalsi emerged during the cross country season as one of the top distance runners in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference. During this winter’s indoor season, however, DeBalsi has been a record-breaker.
DeBalsi set school marks in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in the conference indoor track and championships last week. The performance earned DeBalsi the selection as The Westport Daily Voice Athlete of the Month.
Remarkably, she did not win either event. In the 1,600, she ran 5:07.27 and finished third behind Fairfield Warde’s Cate Allen and Westhill’s Claire Howlett. DeBalsi came back to run 10:50.41 to take second behind Howlett in the 3,200.
In the 3,200, DeBalsi set a school record for the second time this year. Earlier in January, her time of 10:53.23 erased a school record that had stood since 1992. Her time in the 3,200 in the conference championship is the 17th best time in the nation, according to the website MileSplit.com.
“I’m really excited for her,’’ said Amanda Parrish, who coaches the distance runners for the Staples girls team. “The first day at cross country, she stayed with us from the very first practice. With freshmen, I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on them. Running is such a mental sport, and it’s so hard on them. We told her we don’t want you to think you can’t pass us. She won the first race she ever won and just kept going. She’s so coachable. She’s focused and serious but also open to suggestions.”
DeBalsi has surprised herself with her swift ascent. She played softball and participated in taekwondo through middle school. At the 2012 National Championships in Dallas, DeBalsi finished third in the 14-17-year-old girls division in board breaking for black belts.
She ran in a club program at Bedford Middle School and finished second in her age group at the Minute Man Race in Westport last April with a 5K time of 21:24. She decided over the summer to try cross country, and her softball bat is now put away for good.
“I was definitely surprised by what happened in the cross country season,’’ DeBalsi said. “This winter, I really didn’t have any specific goals. I just wanted to run the best I could.”
DeBalsi’s work ethic and determination are key, Parrish said. “She never misses a practice,’’ Parrish said. “She’s a dedicated student, but she doesn’t schedule things that will conflict with practice. If she’s late because of school work, she’ll still does all the warmups and every drill that she may have missed.”
DeBalsi’s races at the conference championships were part of a splendid night for the Wreckers. The Wreckers also set a school record in the 4 x 200 relay with Tyler Scanlin, Emily Troelstra, Kelly Harris and Olivia Weiner. Scanlin also broke the school record in the 600.
The championship season resumes Friday with the Class LL championships, followed by the State Open on Feb. 16. DeBalsi's record-breaking winter may not be done.
“I think she still has a lot of growth as a runner,’’ Parrish said. “I’ve tried to keep her mileage pretty low, and I’ve been trying to avoid doubling her in races. She has a promising future.”
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.