In the span of just 18 months, Staples sophomore Hannah DeBalsi has gone from complete unknown to one of the best distance runners in the country.
There are few people in the high school running community that don't know about DeBalsi now, and her star will continue to rise as she competes at the highest level.
DeBalsi will look to win the 2-mile event at the New Balance National Indoor Track Championships, which is scheduled from Friday to Sunday at The Armory in New York City.
"It's pretty much an unbelievable story," Staples indoor track coach Jesse McCray said. "Just from never hearing about her in seventh and eighth grade, and what she has done in high school is incredible. She's been the story of Connecticut and there are people following her nationwide."
DeBalsi will also run a leg in the distance medley relay on Friday night for the Wreckers. The 2-mile run will commence at about 1 p.m. on Sunday and DeBalsi is one of the favorites.
"I'm not trying not to think about that because it's anyone's race," DeBalsi said. "Anyone can win because the field is talented. I know I have the fastest time going in, but I'm not trying to put pressure on myself. I'm just focused on having the best race I can."
DeBalsi clocked in at 10:12.95 at the New England championships in Boston on March 1, and hopes to break the 10:10 mark this time around. DeBalsi's time is tops in the country this season.
"She sets high goals, and one thing about Hannah is that you know she is going to give it her all to try to achieve those goals," McCray said. "In terms of being nervous or in awe of the surroundings; even at a young age she's had so much experience I don't think it will bother her."
Most of the top distance runners in the country will compete in New York, and several familiar faces will be at the Armory. Tessa Barrett (Waveny, Pa.) beat DeBalsi at a cross country regional in November and at the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships in December. Barrett recently won her state championships in the 3000 meters, and her time (9:36.45) adjusted to the 2-mile length is very close to DeBalsi's.
"In math class I was thinking: Tessa, Tessa," DeBalsi joked. "Racing against her will be exciting."
Caroline Alcorta of West Springfield, Va. finished third at the cross country nationals and currently has the second-fastest 2-mile time (10:22.29) this season.
DeBalsi (10:39.28) finished 10th in the event in 2013. Audrey Belf (Birmingham, Mich.), who finished third last year, is the top returning competitor.
"Last year it was so loud," DeBalsi said. "I've never been in a race that loud. It's exciting this year; instead of being scared the noise will drive me."
DeBalsi, who lapped nearly the entire field in winning New Englands, will have to be at her best to take home a national title.
"It will probably be a little easier this time because there will be more people around me than New Englands," DeBalsi said. "Hopefully that will drag me to a faster time."