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Northwood's Adler shows she's 'a natural'
It’s springtime and the cheerleaders at Northwood are working on keeping up their fitness. On this day, they have to run 1 mile on the school’s track.
There is nothing unusual about this, except one girl is way out in front of the pack.
Heads turn as she goes by and the question is asked, “Who is that girl?”
Northwood track and cross country coach Louie Muniz knew the answer. It was Erika Adler, a girl he first heard about while he managed the school’s 5K run. Adler’s dad was a volunteer for the event. He had mentioned that his daughter liked running, but she had chosen to do cheerleading in high school.
And cheer she did until last spring. That’s when Adler she felt the tug to try something new. So she joined the school’s track team.
“I always like trying new things,” she said. “I think it makes life fun.”
ORANGE COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Saturday, at Irvine Regional Park
First race: 7:45 a.m.
Muniz said he treated her like any other newcomer.
“You’re a junior,” Muniz thought to himself. “‘You’ve got one more year. How good could you really be?’ That was kind of my feeling.”
After Adler ran a decent mile in a time trial, Muniz was sold on her talent. She improved rapidly and gained many more believers.
After only eight weeks of formal training, she took second place in the 3,200 meters in the Pacific Coast League Finals. She just missed the cut for the CIF-SS Division 2 Finals in the event, running an 11:06 at CIF-SS Prelims after falling down during the race.
Fast-forward to this cross country season, and Adler is making headlines. She was the county’s second-fastest runner at the Dana Hills Invitational, behind only All-County junior Haley Herberg of Capistrano Valley.
In the fourth cross country race of her career, Adler showed that she was the class of the Pacific Coast League. She won the league cluster meet by 21 seconds (17:15) over Corona del Mar’s Raquel Powers at Irvine Regional Park on Oct. 6.
“The girl started in March, and we’re barely getting into October,” Muniz said. “This six-month period, I’ve never had an athlete make such a big improvement. What a natural.”
Senior Samantha Murphy was one of five Northwood runners to finish in the top 10 at the league cluster meet. She had frequently encouraged Adler to join the cross country and track teams.
“I always knew she should have done running,” Murphy said. “She was always super-fit, and I would always tell her, ‘Erika, you’re not supposed to be a cheerleader.’”
Adler enjoyed her time in cheer, but she didn’t want to have any regrets about leaving an opportunity on the table.
“I didn’t know if I was going to try to come back to cheer,” she said. “The track season got me motivated to see what I could potentially be. I’m happy that I decided to go to cross country.”
Adler will look to cement her place among the county’s elite in the girls sweepstakes race in the Orange County Championships at Irvine Regional Park on Saturday.
Over the summer, college programs expressed interest in the emerging Northwood star. Muniz wants to see what college coaches can do with Adler’s untapped potential.
“College coaches are sharp,” he said. “They know she’s severely under-trained. This girl is just a novice as an 18-year-old, (but she is) running this fast with no prior years of training.”
Adler’s rapid ascent has some at Northwood reminiscing about the Timberwolves’ glory days with Bethan Knights.
Knights, who runs for Cal, was the Register’s cross country athlete of the year in 2013 and led Northwood to its first league title. Had Adler run her freshman year, the two would have been teammates.
“She’s amazing,” Adler said of Knights. “She’s a role model, kind of like my hero because I know she wasn’t a runner beforehand. She just started and excelled from there.”
Adler is the newly anointed team captain, and she could lead Northwood to its second league title if Northwood can repeat its cluster meet performance.
Adler’s accolades have helped dispel the notion that cheerleaders aren’t athletes. Progress has been made on that note, as competitive cheer is set to become a CIF sport next year.