11/16/04 — Girls cross country Player of the Year -- Princeton's Braswell makes one big impression

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Girls cross country Player of the Year -- Princeton's Braswell makes one big impression

By David Williams
Published in Sports on November 16, 2004 1:58 PM

PRINCETON -- Heather Braswell had heard Summer Graham's encouragement all last year.

The established distance star and defending state 1-A mile and two-mile champion told the young sophomore regularly that she would be a natural for cross-country.

"Summer kept trying to talk me into it," Braswell said. " I didn't enjoy volleyball that much, so I thought I'd try it."


Heather Braswell

There is something to be said for Graham's eye for talent, as well as the talents of Braswell, now a junior at Princeton High School. Braswell picked up the mantle of her graduated fellow runner, working her way into a pair of wins and constant top-three finishes in conference meets. She was second at the conference championships, fourth at the regionals and placed 16th at the state 1-A meet at Tanglewood Park -- all in her first year of running distance.

"I found out during track season she was going to come out," said Princeton cross-country coach Amanda Rowland. " I was happy because I felt she would make a huge contribution. We needed her."

"I figured it was something different," Braswell said. "Summer thought I would do really good in it."

Not bad for a runner who was in the sprints last spring in track. Those accomplishments were good enough to give Braswell the nod as the 2004 News-Argus Female Cross-Country Runner of the Year.

Braswell, the daughter of Lynwood and Gail Braswell of Princeton, had no difficulty transitioning to the patient distance runner's mentality from the sprinter's all-out, burst of speed approach.

"I like it better," she said. "But doing well did surprise me. I never expected I could have these kinds of things happen to me."

Her first meet of the season produced her worst time -- a 24:22 for the course at the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park. From there, Braswell improved her times and ran strong, becoming a second-half finisher in races.

"I usually start slower and speed up, and pass the girl," she said. " If I worried about her coming up behind me, I just speed up."

She had a good finishing kick, and never worried about the tank being empty at the end of a race.

" Whenever I get to the end, I always figure the finish line is right there," Braswell said. "It doesn't matter how you feel, because when you finish you'll get taken care of, and they'll give you Gatorade."

Rowland noted that Braswell's character showed through, despite nagging injuries.

"I knew she would be good,' she said. "She was running through injuries and never complained. That shows her dedication and her strength."

Her top time of the season was a 20:34 at the conference meet at Farmville Central. She was bested by eight seconds at that meet, but never lost her confidence and ran a stout fourth-place finish at the regionals.

Her concern was twofold -- qualify for state meet herself and hopefully get the Princeton team qualified as well.

"We were worried that we weren't going to make it because some of us weren't running our best," she said. After her finish assured her of a state meet spot as an individual, she then cheered on her teammates as Princeton qualified the team.

"We were all excited about making it as a team," Braswell said.

At the state meet, the warmer weather suited Braswell, who hung back early and finished strong to take 14th place in her first state meet. She said she could have pushed herself more, and vows to return to Tanglewood Park next year and bring back a Top-10 finish.

"At the beginning I was just trying to get into it and get comfortable," she said. "I started gaining on people on the second time around. That's when I sped up. The finish was my strongest point."

Braswell want to study sports medicine at East Carolina University after high school, but for now has a winter of basketball and a spring of track meets in her future.

But not in sprints.

"I'll run the mile and two mile this year, and the relay," she said.

"I think a lot will depend on the track season, and she will run distances then," Rowland said. "It will make her an ever stronger runner this fall. She will definitely have a bigger leadership role on the team."