There was once a time when Reservoir's Karli Smiraglia looked at running as merely a way to train for soccer and lacrosse.
She originally joined the indoor track team in her sophomore year to stay in shape, not really giving any thought to the actual competition side of the sport.
Then came her first race, and that's when everything changed.
"I'm a really competitive kid," said Smiraglia. "No matter what it is, I want to be the best."
That mentality almost instantly rang true for the talented runner, who used an injury that limited participation in contact sports to her advantage. It was at that point when she realized that running could be more than just a bridge between sports. It could be her future.
Set to attend the University of North Carolina Wilmington next year as a member of the track team, Smiraglia's relationship with running has come a long way. "She eats, sleeps and breathes running right now," added Reservoir coach Phil Rogers.
Dedication and consistency have never been a problem for Smiraglia, who helped her Gators to a team county championship this season. It's because of that drive that she went on to claim individual titles in the 800 and 1,600-meter run events at the 3A regionals and state championships, and also why she's been named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Athlete of the Year.
Despite that competitive edge that keeps her motivated, Smiraglia said she constantly felt like she could be better in her sport.
In cross country, she finished second in the county championships, and third at both the 3A East regional and state championship meets. Ultimately not being able to reach the pinnacle of the sport started to get to her.
"I had to get it out of my head that these people were faster than me," she said. "I have to think I'm the fastest one, even if I'm not."
Just a few weeks later, as she got off the cross country course and onto the track — a sport she said she felt most comfortable with — it wouldn't be long before she finally stood alone atop the podium.
Rogers isn't shy about giving credit to the most decorated runner in school history. It's the competitors that Smiraglia — also a first-team all-county selection in cross country — earned those honors against that makes her accomplishments so impressive.
"She's been one of those girls that has come through in a very talented time for the county, and the state," he said. "There are a lot of great girls out there, and sometimes her talent gets overlooked. It's great to see that she finally got a pat on the back from someone outside the school."
Rogers said it didn't take long after he assumed his coaching position at Reservoir to find out that, if a runner can make it in Howard County, they shouldn't have trouble winning at the regional and state levels as well. Since the start of her training, Smiraglia bought into the "bigger picture, trusting in the process to achieve maximum results.
"She's very competitive, but she's also your best training partner," said Rogers. "She's always staying positive and keeping you focused."
Unlike many of her rivals, Smiraglia has relied on the work to get her to new heights, rather than raw talent. Knowing she would have to put in that extra effort to keep up with those around her, Reservoir's top runner used every resource she could to ensure she wouldn't fall behind.
That included doing a bit of research on her competitors at the 3A state championship meet — many of whom she hadn't faced all season.
Still, she crossed the finish line with time to spare in both of her races.
In less than four years on the circuit, the senior has decimated 14 school records, all the while maintaining enviable marks on her report card.
Smiraglia is a member of three honor societies at school, as well as Best Buddies, though sometimes practice can get in the way.
"The thing that makes Karli stand out is her ability to prioritize. She takes the most important things to her and makes those decisions," Rogers said. "She's not afraid to say she's overbooked herself, either. She's level-headed."
Smiraglia chose UNC-Wilmington for a number of reasons. With her studies taking precedence, it was important that she chose a program that was low-key and enjoyable.
"I notice that I can get distracted with running and my academics," she said. "At UNC Wilmington, they were there to get degrees, and running was just something they all had in common."
Smiraglia said she wants to make the most of her finals season as a member of the Reservoir track team. Currently fighting an injury suffered in the indoor season, the senior is eager to get back on the track to prove that the winter wasn't a fluke.
Rogers said he especially enjoyed working with the always-modest Smiraglia, and that her presence as one of the team's leaders will leave a void when she moves on.
"She's as true as they get," he said of her personality on and off the track. "She's going to be one of the girls who I will truly miss."
Also named to the all-county team are:
Jen Bleakney, Atholton
Events: 800- and 1600-meter run
Postseason highlights: Placed first in the 800 (2:21.33) and 1,600 (5:09.72) at the county championship.
Jamila Brown, Wilde Lake
Events: 55- and 300-meter dash
Postseason highlights: Finished first in the 55-meter dash (7.47) and the 300 (41.85) in the county championship. Placed first in the the 55 (7.65), and second in the 300 (45.04) at the 3A East regional. Finished third in the 55 (7.33) and fourth in the 300 (41.60) at states.
Jadan Cadogan, Long Reach
Events: 55- and 300-meter dash
Postseason highlights: Placed second in the 55-meter dash (7.66) and third in the 300 (45.64) at the 3A East regionals. Finished 10th in the 55 (7.55) and the 300 (42.91) at states.
Sophie Caplan, River Hill
Events: pole vault, jumps
Postseason highlights: Placed second in high jump (4-8), first in pole vault (9-8), second in long jump (15-5.50) and sixth in triple jump (31-6.50) at the county championship. Finished fourth in high jump (4-6) and first in pole vault (9-6) at the 3A regional. Placed 12th in high jump (4-6) and fourth in pole vault (9-0) at states.
Bre Hamilton, Howard
Events: 55- and 300-meter dash, long jump
Postseason highlights: Placed fifth in the 55-meter dash (7.81), second in the 300 (42.33) and first in the long jump (16-0.75) at the county championship. Finished the 300 in 44.61 at the 4A West regional. Placed seventh in the 300 (42.46) at states.
Bria Hill, Long Reach
Events: 55-meter hurdles, jumps
Postseason highlights: Finished second in the 55-meter hurdles (8.70) and first in the triple jump (36-1) at the county championships. Placed second in the hurdles (9.18) and third in the high jump (4-6) at the 3A East regional. Finished fifth in the hurdles (8.65) and 12th in the high jump (4-6) at states.
Cora Johnson, Reservoir
Events: 55-meter hurdles, shot put
Postseason highlights: Finished eighth in the 55-meter hurdles (13.19) and second in the shot put (34-6.75) at the county championship. Placed sixth in hurdles (10:53) and first in shot put (33-6) at the 3A East Regional. Finished sixth in shot put (33-3) at states.
Courtney Merson, Howard
Postseason highlights: Finished first in high jump (4-10), fourth in long jump (15-3.75) and second in triple jump (32-9) in triple jump at the county championship. Recorded a 5-0 in the high jump at the 4A West Regional. Finished eighth in the high jump (4-10) at states.
Shreya Nalubola, Centennial
Event: 3,200-meter run
Postseason highlights: Finished first at the county championship (11.35.23), first at the 3A East regional (11:39.11) and second at states (11:37.81).
Alexis Newberry, Glenelg
Event: 500-meter run
Postseason highlights: Finished first at the 3A East regional (86.04) and sixth at states (84.19).
Gabby Rayner, Howard
Events: 500- and 800-meter run
Postseason highlights: Won the 500 (82.04) and finished third in the 800 (2:27.19) at the county championship. Recorded times of 84.51 seconds and 2:31.96 in the 500 and 800, respectively, at the 4A West regional. Placed 13th in the 500 at states (83.06).
Taylor Scaife, Howard
Event: shot put
Postseason highlights: Won the county championship (35-8.75), recorded 35-7.50 at 4A West regional, and placed fourth at states (38-6.00)
Taylor Selber, Long Reach
Events: 55-meter hurdles, 300-meter dash
Postseason highlights: Placed fifth in the 300 (44.03) and first in the hurdles (8.61) at the county championship. Finished first in hurdles (8.94) at the 3A East regionals. Finished second in hurdles (8.39) at states.
Londyn Tyler, Wilde Lake
Events: 55- and 300-meter dash
Postseason highlights: Finished fourth in 55-meter dash (7.66) and the 300 (43.64) at the county championship. Placed seventh in the 55 (8.05) and first in the 300 (44.94) at the 3A East regional. Placed 14th in the 300 (43.64) at states.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun