Baxter stunned by Gatorade XC Runner of the Year award
Californian won NXN title; set major CRs
By Steve Underwood
January 25, 2013
When Sarah Baxter saw her coach, Roger Evans, in her Friday morning history classroom, she knew there was something up. But Evans – a retired teacher – merely said that he was there for the special guest speaker.
“When I walked in, I saw all of these cameras and I was told there was a guest speaker,” said the Simi Valley (Calif.) junior. “When I saw Allyson Felix go to the podium, I was really impressed.”
Baxter, as modest and unassuming as they come, had no idea she was about to receive the Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year award. And the London Olympics triple gold medalist Felix – who while representing Los Angeles Baptist in 2003 took home not only the Gatorade track honor, but the overall Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year for all sports, as well – took her time in getting to that point.
“Allyson talked about motivation, focus, and how she’s gotten where she is,” said Coach Evans. “She talked a good 10 minutes. Then she finally asked if there were any cross-country runners in the room.” When Baxter got up to the podium, Felix revealed a rather large Gatorade trophy from its hiding place. “Sarah turned white ... then she turned a very bright red.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year tradition is to surprise athletes in their classrooms during a typical school day. Rarely has it worked as well as it did Friday. But that’s due to Baxter’s nature as well as the effectiveness of the setup. “She has no ego,” said Coach Evans.
But Baxter had a season for the ages in 2012. Now back in 2011, as a sophomore, Baxter won her first Nike Cross Nationals champ to complete an undefeated year. But the Gatorade XC award went to Molly Seidel, a senior from Wisconsin, who claimed the Foot Locker title. Last fall, however, Baxter stepped up her game to a new level. At the October Mt. SAC Invitational in Walnut, she destroyed Amber Trotter’s 2001 course record with a 16:00 for 2.91 miles that ranks with the greatest XC performances ever. At the D1 state meet at Woodward Park in Fresno, Baxter with a 16:39.7 (5k) topped a course record from another legendary prep harrier, Julia Stamps, that had stood since 1996. It was her third consecutive state championship, the first two coming when Simi Valley was a D2 school.
During the NXN Finals in Portland, times were slowed immensely by a flooded course, but Baxter pulled away from New York superstar Mary Cain and posted a four-second triumph in 19:17 to become the meet’s first two time champ and cap off her epic campaign.
“This is really a great honor,” said Baxter of the morning’s festivities. “I’m really excited. I was very surprised.”
The junior cited Coach Evans’ move to have her train with the boys frequently during the fall, several months of injury-free training, and harder, faster workouts as the keys to taking the next step up. The mentor has cited Baxter’s growing maturity and confidence. At heart, though, she’s a team player above all else. “She easily bought in to our team’s culture of sportsmanship, training, commitment, and team unity,” Coach Evans said. “With the team she is just ‘one of the girls’ and for her, the team is the significant influence to her achievement.”
That attitude is also why, as far as the track season ahead, Baxter is non-committal to any big showcase meets outside California – or post-season action, say at the New Balance or USATF level. She does have one big goal, however. “I really, really want to break 10:00 (for the 3,200).” If nothing else, Arcadia and her state meet should provide opportunities.
Baxter was also cited by Gatorade for maintaining a 3.15 GPA in the classroom and volunteering locally at a charity thrift store and on behalf of the American Legion Auxiliary.
The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track & field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport. In addition to athletic excellence, the award recognizes academic achievement and exemplary character on and off the field.
This year celebrates the program’s 28th anniversary. In that time, Gatorade has honored more than 11,000 State Players of the Year and more than 236 National Players of the Year, including many of today’s top professional athletes, such as Peyton Manning, Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker, Kerri Walsh, Derek Jeter, and Emmitt Smith. For more information, visit www.playeroftheyear.gatorade.com.