By Tim Morris |
A champion on the soccer pitch and on the track, Shore Regional’s Hannah Birdsall sees a common thread linking the two sports.
“In both you have to work very, very hard to get where you want to be,” said the Blue Devils junior.
For Birdsall, all that work has produced golden results.
This fall, she scored 14 goals and assisted on 11 more as Shore, 20-4-2, captured its third straight NJSIAA Group 1 state championship.
On the track, the Blue Devil sprinter has won NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 1 crowns in 200- 400- and 800- meters and she ran as the lead-off leg on Shore’s Group 1 state championship 4×400- relay team when she was a freshman in 2016. That year, she was the sectional winner at the 200-meter dash.
These results on the track have been totally unexpected, however.
“I went out for track just to try it out,” she recalled. “I thought the short sprints would help my speed for soccer.
“It’s shocking how far I’ve progressed,” she added.
Those sprints may indeed have helped her on the pitch but, it turned out that she was a natural on the track. Soon, she was more than just a short sprinter, stretching her talents up to 800 meters.
Shore head coach Mel Ullmeyer pointed out that Birdsall’s talented is well suited to running the 400- and 800-meters.
“She’s got speed and she’s got strength,” he pointed out. “She’s going to have a big year.”
The reason for his optimism, and Birdsall’s as well, is that she has done more base work to build up her strength in preparation for the indoor season.
“I’ve built up a lot of endurance,” Birdsall noted. “I’m very excited about the season.”
Birdsall began her indoor season on Dec.20 with a win in the 800 meters at the Monmouth University Showcase.
The Blue Devil will continue run both the 400 and 800 indoors and outdoors.
Although she’s won a state sectional title and was the runner-up at the Group 1 state championships in the 800, the Blue Devils still considers herself a novice to the distance.
“I’m still learning how to run it,” Birdsall said of the longer grade. “I still have the potential to improve.”
That can’t be good news for the rest of Group 1.
In sizing up her approach to the 800, Birdsall said it is to “stick with the top pack and with 300 to go give it all you have.”
Giving it her all is the key to her success in both sports.
The Shore junior enters track year with an 800 personal best of 2:17.63 and she would like to lower that before the outdoor season gets under way.
Birdsall is quite familiar with the 400, one of the most demanding events in track and field. It comes down to the final meters where the winner is the sprinter who can hold on the best.
“The last part is crucial, the last kick, the last lean,” said Birdsall. “The biggest thing is focusing on your form, keeping your knees up and driving your arms.”
She believes she will be better able to handle those final strides when the pain takes over because of the endurance she has built up.”
Birdsall has a 400 personal best of 57.73 ran outdoors and she’d like to top that this winter. In indoor, her personal best is 59.53.
Soccer has aided Birdsall when it comes to handling pressure. Having played on the biggest stage in high school soccer, the state championships, she has learned what it takes to succeed In fact, in her freshman year, she had the game winning goal in the state final.
“You have to get into a good mentality, you need to relax and channel your energy,” she explained.
Running is in the Birdsall family. Older sister Casey, now at the University of Delaware, ran cross country and distance on the track for the Blue Devils. She and Hannah were teammates last year running on the distance medley relay team.
“(Casey) inspired me,” Birdsall explained. “She really helped me out my freshman year.
“When she comes home (from college) we run together,” she noted.
Now, she is the bigger sister showing her younger sister Krissy, a freshman, the ropes. Like Casey, she is a distance runner.
“She has a lot of determination,” Hannah said of her younger sister.
The Birdsall sisters will get to run together on 4×800 and DMR relays for the Blue Devils.
“That’s something we’ve talked about,” she said.
Track is also a team sport and the Blue Devils, who have good field event performers as well as sprinters and distance runners, has a chance to win the Central Jersey Group 1 crown this winter.
“We definitely have a good team and we all understand that we have to work hard,” she concluded.
In Hannah Birdsall, the Blue Devils have a role model to follow when it comes to working hard to achieve your best.
This article was first published in the Jan. 4-11, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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