In a way, Tiffany Lang not only had to be a runner, but she had to be a great runner. As the daughter of Phil and Vicki Lang — Oakland Mills coaches, lifelong runners and longtime members of the Howard County Striders running club — certain expectations came for Tiffany as a birthright.
"Vicki and I were both runners in high school and college and we literally met on the track (at Frostburg), so you can imagine that it crossed our minds when we had kids" that they'd be runners, said Phil Lang, who graduated from Oakland Mills.
But then again, Phil and Vicki have plenty of experience coaching young people and they know that for an athlete to succeed, it has to be all for fun. So if Tiffany had decided to become a kayaker or an ice skater or whatever else, that would have been fine, too.
"We had seen a whole bunch of kids come and go from different sports for different reasons, whether it's burnout or something else and it's not always a bad thing, sometimes it's just finding something that you're more passionate about," Phil Lang said. "We just wanted to make sure that she was still having fun with it … I've seen too many families unfortunately torn apart by athletics and that's just not going to happen here."
So Tiffany tried plenty of other sports growing up — soccer, swimming, softball, gymnastics and rope jumping to name a few — and she still plays basketball, her second favorite sport, through her church league.
"She actually was pretty decent at most of them," Phil Lang said. "I was a kid and I played basketball through my high school days and so did my wife. Kids want to play."
But once Tiffany started running at a young age, she didn't stop. And this year as a senior, she became Oakland Mills' first girls county champion, a Class 2A state runner-up and finally, the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times girls cross country Runner of the Year.
"My parents started coaching the year I was born, 1994, and when I was 3, my dad would always come home from work and go for his afternoon run. One day I got curious and asked if I could come along," said Tiffany, who started participating in the Centennial Fun Run and joined the Howard County Striders at age 5.
As a freshman, Tiffany finished fifth at the county meet and it was clear that her parents' running-infused genes had taken hold. As a sophomore she placed eighth at the county meet and she finished third there as a junior.
"Last year she had Vicki and I going a little crazy because she took the lead and was pushing the pace for awhile and we started getting giddy," Phil Lang said.
But at the 2011 county championship meet, Tiffany took a large lead and never relinquished it. After pulling away from a chase pack led by Glenelg freshman Julia Nardone midway through the race, Tiffany finished with an impressive time of 19 minutes, 43 seconds, which was 25 seconds faster than any other competitor and 40 seconds faster than her time as a junior.
"I really wanted that win. I was nervous because (there were a lot of good girls out there)," Tiffany said. "But I really wanted the cross country (championship)."
At the regional meet a week later, Lang hardly slowed down, finishing her home course at Oakland Mills in a postseason-best time of 19:25, this time outpacing second-place finisher Nardone by 30 seconds.
Finally, at the 2A state meet at Hereford High, Lang found a runner who could beat her: Winters Mill's Hannah Oneda, who finished the course in a blazing 18:28, which demolished an 11-year old meet record by almost 25 seconds.
But Lang's second-place state finish could hardly be called a disappointment. As a close friend of Oneda's, Lang knew what she was up against, and running her best race ever at the Hereford course was a fitting end to a memorable season for the Oakland Mills senior.
"She's been so neat to watch. Each year we've allowed her to do a little more and still not push too hard," Phil Lang said. "She was just so consistent this year. She just ran great every time … it's been really fun watching Tiffany do her thing."
Next year, Tiffany is looking to attend a Division I school where she can run at a competitive level and study with a top photography program. Meanwhile, Brittany Lang — Tiffany's little sister, subject of countless photographs and one of her best friends — will be a freshman at Oakland Mills.
"It would be cool (to have been teammates) because our team would be that much better," Tiffany Lang said. "But I'm kind of scared to race against her. She hasn't beaten me, but she's fast!"
Phil Lang said he is worried about the pressure Brittany will face in following Tiffany's footsteps, but that it will be his job to keep things in perspective.
"We know for sure what we are first and foremost is parents to these two young ladies," he said. "I just hope (Brittany) can have three-quarters of the fun that Tiffany had in high school."
Named to the all-county first team are:
Nicole Dawson, Hammond senior
Postseason highlights: Ran fastest time of postseason at 3A state meet (20:33.7) to place seventh. Was also second at 3A East regionals (20:50.0) and fourth at county meet (20:44.8).
Alyssa Hemler, Oakland Mills junior
Postseason highlights: Fifth place finish at 2A South regional meet in 20:30.5 was best showing of the postseason. Also finished sixth at county meet (21:01.7) and 12th at 2A states (21:10.0).
Hannah Mansbach, Glenelg Country junior
Postseason highlights: Broke out with third-place finish in less than 20 minutes (19:48) at the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland championship meet at Oregon Ridge.
Julia Nardone, Glenelg freshman
Postseason highlights: Finished second to Lang at county meet in 20:07. Placed fifth at 2A states in 20:23. Broke 20 minutes (19:55.8) with her second-place finish at 2A South regional meet.
Rachel Yep, Mt. Hebron junior
Postseason highlights: Never ran a race slower than 20:45 in the postseason, finishing eighth at 3A states (20:44.5), third at the county championship meet (20:33.5) and winning the 3A East regional title in 20:37.
LeAnne Young, River Hill senior
Postseason highlights: The 2010 county champion led the Hawks to their fourth straight county championship with her fifth-place finish in 20:57.2. Ran a postseason-best time of 20:25.7 to take sixth place, higher than any other county runner in the 3A state race. Also placed third at regions (21:04).