Marlee Starliper came so close to a national title on Saturday in San Diego.
The Northern York senior will have to settle for having the fastest runner-up finish in the history of the Foot Locker Nationals in 16:46.8. Zofia Dudek of Michigan outsprinted Starliper at the end to win in 16:45.0.
“I am so thankful to have been able to run my best race,” said Starliper, who finished 13th in the last two races. “I had to be really patient. I know the last two years I’ve run here I ran that first loop and I wasn’t relaxed enough and I just died.”
Greencastle-Antrim senior Taryn Parks finished 40th in 20:00. The University of Northern Carolina recruit is the first runner to compete in four national meets since 2014.
Starliper was in ninth place at the first half-mile split, which was run in record pace. She hung there at the first mile, while Dudek was running in second place on the hard, dry course.
Like she did last year, Katelynne Hart set the pace. Hart finished second in the last two Foot Locker nationals.
Starliper ran with defending champion Sydney Masciarelli for the first half of the race. Masciarelli finished seventh in 17:19.4, 19 seconds off of last year’s pace.
Starliper made her first move at the 10-minute mark, when she moved into fourth, about 4 seconds off the pace. She closed the gap on the leading trio near the 12-minute mark.
“I tried to be really patient today,” Starliper said. “I kept my mind in it. I kept telling myself ‘I believe I can do this, I believe I can do this.'”
Abby Vanderkooi, Dudek, Hart and Starliper ran together in the lead pack going into the last big hill. Hart dropped off the lead pack at the 13:30 mark.
Starliper moved into the lead at the 14:15 mark, running easily after climbing the hill. She opened a commanding lead coming down the hill, but Dudek was hanging tough.
Dudek made a huge move with 350 meters to go, when she passed Starliper and held on for the win. Prior to Saturday’s race, only seven girls ran sub-17-minute races. The announcers said this was the fastest mass finish in Foot Locker National history.
“I’m thankful I could trust my instincts and go when I had to,” Starlipler said. “I was gunning for the finish. I thanked Sophia because I was waiting for a sprintoff like that.”
Dudek and Starliper’s finishes were the fifth and sixth-fastest in race history.
VanderKooi finished third in 16:55 and Hart was fourth in 17:14.
The Foot Locker Nationals was the second race Starliper ran on the west coast in a week. She finished fifth in the Nike Cross Nationals in a steady rain that made the course sloppy at best.
Starliper said that race in Portland, Oregon was the toughest race of her life.
“Closest to that was probably last year’s [District 3] race,” Starliper said. “It was cold, rainy and muddy. NXN was that … doubled. When I finished I felt like I came out of a frozen lake. When I did my cool down I kept coming in for another layer of clothing.”
Starliper spent the week in between races traveling from Portland to San Diego.
“We drove down, and that was so much fun,” she said. “I got to run through the redwoods, and across the San Francisco Bay Bridge.”
And she did some school work, although she said it’s a bit easier being a senior because she doesn’t have to take as many classes.
“I got some work done ahead of time, but this trip really snuck up on me,” Starliper said. “My teachers were very gracious and I am thankful to be able to do both races.”
Taylor Ewert was the only other runner who finished in the top 10 in Portland and turned around to run in San Diego. After finished second last week in 17:19.1, Ewert trimmed 3 seconds off of her time to finish sixth in the Foot Locker race.
Asked if one race meant more to her than the other, Starliper said you really can’t compare the two because they have different dynamics.
“NXN has teams in it, so that’s different,” Starliper said of Foot Locker, which features the top 10 runners from four regional races. Starliper won the Northeast regional last month.
“I don’t know why more runners don’t compete in both races,” Starliper said. “Each race has great runners.”
What’s next for the senior? A nice two-week break, and then she’ll get back to work for the indoor track and field season.