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Newport Harbor's Tennison is All-County girls cross country athlete of the year
The athletic aspirations of Newport Harbor senior Paige Tennison didn’t originally include distance running as something that she would excel in.
“I played soccer, and when I first started cross country, I was one of those kids that hid in the bushes while everyone else ran,” Tennison recalled. “When everyone would come inside, I would get back with the group and make sure I was in the middle so it wouldn’t be obvious.”
However, Tennison experienced a revelation on the track that would reshape her thoughts on distance running.
“I ran a two mile race my sophomore year at the 2011 Irvine Distance Carnival and I hadn’t really trained for it because I was coming off soccer season,” Tennison. “Everything clicked in my head, and running out there on the track that day was one of the happiest moments of my life.
“I realized that I didn’t want to be playing soccer anymore and that I wanted to get really good at running.”
Tennison developed her new found talent and became an all-county runner as a junior last fall. Entering her senior season projected to be one of the state’s elite, Tennison didn’t disappoint, achieving on a level of the some of the county’s top all-time running talents.
For a sustained level of excellence through the season, Tennison was selected as the Register’s 2012 Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year.
“It’s unbelievable to be near the level of some of the county’s great runners,” Tennison said. “I love running and there is nothing that I would rather do.”
She revealed that she didn’t put any pressure on herself this fall despite the lofty expectations that followed after her big breakthrough in 2011.
“Last year, I went into the season with more goals,” Tennison said. “This season, I wanted to run for myself and see what I could do.”
Tennison opened the season with a victory at the Laguna Hills Invitational, running to the fastest individual time of the meet. She followed that up with the fastest time of all county runners at the Woodbridge/Estancia/Costa Mesa Classic, placing third overall in the sweepstakes race.
She would then once again take center stage at the Orange County Championships. Despite missing several training session in the days leading up to the meet because of an illness caused by an allergic reaction, Tennison claimed her second straight individual title. In the process, she became the first repeat county champion since former Woodbridge star Christine Babcock won back to back title in 2006 and 2007.
“It is my favorite part of the season because you get to face off against everyone from Orange County,” Tennison said. “I love that race and to be racing on the same course as so many great runners is amazing.”
After winning the Sunset League individual title, Tennison prepared for the challenge of competing for a CIF-SS title on the famed hills of Mt. Sac. But a storm on the morning of the race forced the competition to be moved to the alternate rain course.
Nonetheless, Tennison broke away from her competitors early and claimed the CIF-SS Division 2 title. She crossed the finish line with the second fastest time of the day behind Simi Valley star Sarah Baxter.
“Going into that race, I was really looking forward being able to better my lifetime best time on the regular Mt. Sac course from the year before,” Tennison said. “I couldn’t change that it was raining and every one else was running under the same conditions.”
The thrill of winning of the CIF-SS Division 2 title was tempered in the days leading up to the CIF State Cross Country Champions, as Tennison came down with an illness in the middle of the week.
“The days before the race I was pretty worried because I was not feeling well at all,” Tennison said. “I slept all day on Thanksgiving and on the way up to Fresno. My mom didn’t want me to race, but it was my last high school race and I wasn’t going to miss that.”
Tennison jockeyed for the lead early in the Division 2 state final, but began to fade in the latter half of the race. Running with what was later determined to be a fever of over 100 degrees, Tennison placed fourth in Division 2 with a time 17:51.
She acknowledged feeling that she didn’t accomplish what she wanted in her final distance running competition of the season.
“I had worked so hard over the season and I knew that I was ready for my best race at the state meet,” Tennison said. “I was disappointed because I was hoping for a great race and my expectations were really high.”
Even with a list of impressive accomplishments that put her on par with some of the better runners in county history, Tennison has a difficult time placing her achievements in a historical context.
“It’s crazy to even think of people thinking of me in that way,” she said.