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Marina's Hollander girls track athlete of the year
The remarkable distance running performances that Marina senior Laura Hollander thrilled running fans with during last fall's cross country season proved to be an appealing appetizer of what was to come as the calendar rolled into spring.
Showing the same dedication to performance, poise and resiliency that she used to transform herself into one of the state's premier distance runners last fall, Hollander catapulted herself to an even higher level on the track, performing on par with some of the nation's top runners and with some of the county's all-time greats.
For her outstanding level of achievement throughout the season, Hollander has been selected as the Register's Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year for 2012.
"I definitely wanted to win this award, and it is a huge honor for me to get this," Hollander said. "I was excited to race and see what my senior track season would bring."
A second-place finish at the CIF Division 1 state cross country championships in November helped earn Hollander the Register's Cross Country Athlete of the Year award. But a tough day against national competition at the Nike Cross Nationals in the December inspired Hollander's preparation for a stellar showing this spring.
"I hated the feeling that I had after that race and was re-motivated for track and doing better than I did during cross country," Hollander recalled.
That motivation yielded immediate results when the track season got underway in March. At the season-opening Irvine Invitational, Hollander ran to a then lifetime-best of 10:24.80 to win the 3,200 meters.
Hollander's strong season debut was only a warm-up. Under the national spotlight of the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in April, Hollander and Simi Valley sophomore star Sarah Baxter produced one of the best distance running duals in recent memory. Both girls broke away from the pack early and challenged each other nearly stride for stride throughout much of the race.
Baxter would use a final burst in the final 200 meters to win in a time of 10:08.11, with Hollander crossing finish line second in a time of 10:10.51. Those are still the top two 3,200 times run in the country this season.
That performance also moved Hollander into second place on the county's all-time 3,200 performance list, trailing only a 10:04.03 by former Woodbridge star Christine Babcock at the 2008 Arcadia Invitational.
"It was my second time running the 3,200, and that was one of the races that I was really proud of," Hollander said. "After that race, I was excited to continue training and trying to beat that time."
Two weeks later at the Orange County Championships, Hollander's impressive season would extend into the 1,600. Seizing control moments into the race, she clocked a lifetime best 4:48.86 to win the title. It was the fastest time in the county this season and the 11th best in county history.
Hollander would return later in the meet to complete the distance double by winning the 3,200 (10:23.15).
"It felt good to be the county champion in both events and to get my PR in the 1,600," Hollander said.
She would go on to claim both the 1,600 and 3,200 titles at the Sunset League Finals, and would stand out through CIF competition. She won the 3,200 title at the CIF-SS Division 1 Finals and was runner-up in the 1,600. At the CIF-SS Masters Meet, Hollander again finished second to Baxter in the 3,200, but produced her third sub-10:20 race of the season.
"Going into the state meet, I knew that going against Sarah (Baxter) in the 3,200 was going to be the hardest race of my life, Hollander said. "I was ready mentally and physically to get my PR."
Hollander's resolve would be tested severely in the 3,200 finals at the CIF State Track and Field Championships. Early in the first lap, Hollander's feet got tangled up with several other runners, causing her to lose her balance. As she tried to get to the outside of the cluster of runners jockeying for early position on the inside of the track, another tangle of feet caused Hollander to go down.
Despite losing valuable seconds in one of the most crucial stretches of her race, Hollander picked herself off the track and battled her way back into race contention. By the fourth lap, she had managed to move all the way back into second place.
"I just wanted to get up as quickly as I could, stay as relaxed as I could, and not let my breathing get crazy," Hollander said. "It was such a different race when I got my rhythm thrown off and I had to sprint to get back into it."
Hollander (10:26.02) would eventually finish in third place behind only Baxter (10:12.00) and Colony senior Xochitl Navarrete (10:25.85). It marked the eighth time this season that she finished the 3,200 in under 10:30.
She will compete next year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but will always carry the accolades of a memorable senior season that firmly etched her place amongst the county's all-time best.
"It's hard for me to grasp being one of the top runners in county history," Hollander said. "I just hope other runners see that if you are dedicated to your sport and are committed, you can achieve what you want."