11/21/05 — Heather Braswell -- Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year

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Heather Braswell -- Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on November 21, 2005 2:02 PM

Princeton cross country coach Amanda Rowland admits she doubted she would get the chance to coach another standout runner in the foreseeable future after Summer Graham graduated in 2003 and moved on to compete for UNC-Charlotte.

Steadily, current senior Heather Braswell erased those doubts.

Beginning during the spring track season of 2003, Braswell's sophomore year, Rowland saw the determination and talent of the young middle-distance runner. She knew Braswell had the potential to run long-distance and cross country but did not want to pull her away from volleyball in the fall.

Heather Braswell

News-Argus/Kaye Nesbit

Heather Braswell

As a junior, Braswell made that decision on her own. She improved through her first year with the team and eventually placed 16th at the 2004 Class 1-A N.C. High School Athletic Association state championships.

"Two years ago during spring track, she ran middle distance in the 400 and 800, and I knew she could run longer distance," Rowland said.

"It was just her choice to come over to the team. I'm just really glad she did."

The strides continued in 2005.

Braswell didn't win every Carolina Conference meet this year, but she and North Johnston's Elizabeth Baker were neck-and-neck through the season in what Braswell described as a "friendly rivalry."

At the conference championship meet at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, Braswell (22:48) and teammate Courtney Yancey (23:55) finished one and two overall, respectively, as Baker (24:01) finished third. Ten days later, Baker edged Braswell by 15 seconds at the Mideast Regional, but the Bulldogs finished second in the team scoring, while the Panthers took third.

All of Braswell's hard work culminated earlier this month at the state championships at Tanglewood Park in Forsyth County.

Like most of the season, she and Baker entered the final 800 meters of the race in close proximity to each other. Down the stretch, Braswell found an extra gear and eventually out-raced Baker by six seconds to finish 12th overall with a time of 21:57.

"I had so many nerves that day. It was a lot different than any other meet," Braswell said.

Meanwhile, Yancey took 23rd, while teammates Maegan Hewett, Olivia Booker and Haylee Wood each finished in the top 75 out of 120 runners as the Bulldogs finished fifth overall in the 16-team meet.

"She leads by actions, rather than telling people what to do. Her teammates see her out there every day working and striving to get better," Rowland said. "It takes a lot of work and dedication to be good at this sport. Not everyone wants to run tons of mileage and sprints to get better.

"They saw her working hard and they strived to keep up with her."

For her individual accomplishments and ability to lead Princeton to its best finish at the state meet as a team, Braswell is the 2005 Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year.

"After having Summer (Graham), I didn't think I would have someone as hard-working and dedicated to the sport as what she was, but I was pleased the next year to have Heather," Rowland said. "She had some success in track, and it carried over in cross country. We were missing Summer, but I started thinking perhaps we could have a good team with Heather running. She was a nice addition."

Braswell is clearly pleased with her achievements as an individual, but the soft-spoken senior seemed more impressed with her team's accolades.

"I think that's what I'm the most proud of ... how well the team did this year," she said.

Braswell, who battled a handful of injuries this year, turned in her season-best time of 20:37 during a non-conference meet at Farmville Central earlier this year.

She isn't ruling out running in college as she plans to attend either East Carolina or UNC-Wilmington.

Will another star runner emerge at Princeton like Graham and Braswell? Rowland obviously hopes so.

"It makes my job easy. They deliver, because they are intrinsically motivated," she said. "That dedication translates to success."

Finalists -- Helen Baddour (EW); Rebekka Katko (CBA); Courtney Yancey (PHS); Rocio Alvaredo (ND); Danielle Irby (GHS)