By Mike Cane Herald Writer
Whether she is running a 5,000-meter race, playing a board game or completing a school assignment, Amy-Eloise Neale seeks perfection.
A freshman at Glacier Peak High School, Neale is addicted to winning, and she has the genes, smarts and determination to feed her craving. The 14-year-old is already a five-time USA Junior Olympic national track champion. Now she is generating buzz at the high school level.
This past weekend, Neale won her race at the prestigious Stanford Invitational in California. It is the latest accomplishment in her promising debut season at Glacier Peak.
Considered a contender for the Class 3A state individual championship, Neale is unlike any runner Glacier Peak cross country coach Dan Parker has worked with, Parker said. To put that in perspective, Parker coached four 4A girls state-title teams at Snohomish High before he left for Glacier Peak.
“She is by far the most polished freshman I’ve seen,” Parker said. “Her racing knowledge is way beyond any other freshman I’ve had.”
In fact, Neale already runs faster times than any of Parker’s previous female competitors, regardless of age. Neale won her division of the 3.1-mile Stanford Invite in 18 minutes, 17 seconds. Earlier this month, she placed first at invites in Idaho and Langley, completing the 3.1-mile courses in 18:05 and 18:16.05, respectively.
Besides beneficial genes (her mom was a sprinter) and intelligence (Neale is a straight-A student), Neale has another special quality, said Parker, that separates her from the pack: The ability to focus throughout a race, even when she’s tired.
“She’s the whole package,” Parker said of Neale, known for her near-flawless form and strong finishes.
Neale, who will run track for Glacier Peak in the spring, is “the most mature, focused athlete I have ever been around. And that includes some of my college teammates,” said Glacier Peak assistant coach Frank Dauncey, who was an All-American at Humboldt State University and has been involved in distance running as an athlete and a coach for 37 years.
Dauncey, head coach and youth coordinator for the Snohomish Track Club, trained Neale the past four years. He watched her repeatedly beat the country’s elite runners in the Junior Olympics. She won two gold medals in 2007, one in 2008 and two more this past summer.
“The biggest factor is that she just loves to run, and she loves to win even more,” said Dauncey. “She’s highly competitive at whatever (she does) — if it’s cards, if it’s Scrabble or anything, or just workouts.”
That drive to succeed comes from Neale’s family, she said. She deeply admires her overachieving brother Alexander, a 16-year-old already in his second year at the University of Washington. Alexander is not an athlete, but he and Amy-Eloise share many of the same qualities, their dad said.
“She’s always one for working hard. She’s just very conscientious and she manages her time very well,” Richard Neale said.
The Neale family moved from Manchester, England, to Snohomish when Amy-Eloise was 2. She never had much interest in soccer — the main sport in her homeland — but developed a passion for running. By age 9, Neale was winning youth races. She got hooked.
“When you realize you’ve won, it’s just amazing,” she said.
Also amazing is Glacier Peak’s collection of talent. With the additions of Neale and fellow freshman Katie Bianchini, the already-talented Grizzlies are ranked No. 1 in Class 3A by the Washington State Cross Country Coaches Association. Neale, Bianchini, senior Stephanie Jones, junior Brenna Condon and junior Sarah Whybark all finished among the top 11 in their race at the Stanford Invite.
Neale is savoring the team experience.
“It’s really nice being with your team because I’ve never really had a team before. (Now) I have someone else to run for other than myself,” she said.
Neale’s attention-grabbing performances have not disrupted team chemistry, Condon said: “We’re not mad that she’s faster than us. We’re happy to have her on the team. We need her.”
Glacier Peak hopes to win a state team title and qualify for Nike Cross Nationals, Neale said.
But running is not the only thing on her mind — not even close. She plays several musical instruments and is an avid reader. One of her favorite books is Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” When Neale isn’t running or doing schoolwork, she’s probably deeply absorbed in a good novel or biography.
Asked about Neale’s non-sports hobbies, coach Dauncey said: “She loves to read. That’s number one. And a close number two is eating. She loves to eat.”
With all those calorie-burning runs, Neale certainly earns every bite.
Mike Cane: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the prep sports blog Double Team at www.heraldnet.com/doubleteam.