After four consistently successful years at North Hagerstown High School, Emily Ward will be taking her cross country and track skills to Philadelphia to run for the La Salle University Explorers.
Ward will be leaving the Hubs of North Hagerstown as one of the most successful cross country runners in the school’s long history, as well as the school record holder in the three distance events of 800, 1600, and 3200 meters.
Competing in the state of Maryland’s tough 3A division (4A is the largest), Ward placed 4th in cross country as a sophomore, 7th as a junior, and 5th in her senior year. On the track, Emily captured one state championship, finished 2nd on four occasions and took bronze medals twice.
Unlike many top runners in high school, Emily Ward did not enter 9th grade with a family history or background and passion for distance running. “I did it because a friend said, ‘You should run cross country with me!’” she said. “The first day was awful. It was about 100 degrees and was a two-mile time trial. I ran only one mile in 9:18.”
But Ward stuck with it and began to improve slowly. “They were really nice people on the team, and Lindsay (Coach Lindsay Zerance-Hood) was patient and encouraging.”
When asked when she first realized she might have some talent to become good at distance running, Ward remembered one day in particular. “I was running in a JV race and with some friends; and then I realized I had gotten ahead of them,” she laughed. “I thought about running back to where they were, but thought, ‘that is crazy, you’re out here to run a race!’”
Ward continued to improve over the course of the season and in the final race of the year – the regional meet – she improved upon her best varsity placement of the season (5th on the team) to finish 2nd that day for the Hubs. It did not qualify for states, but a passion was born.
“I do love running cross country, but what I really, really like is running fast on the track,” Ward said. “I totally love doing intervals like 200s and 400s.”
Emily’s best event is probably the 1600 (which is about 29 feet short of a mile). “Even though my highest success was in the 800 with state medals, I feel like I’m best in the 1600,” she said.
Ward’s one state championship was at 800 meters her junior year in indoor track. In the state championships, the 1600 is early in the day, whereas the 800 is toward the end of the meet.
“The 1600 that day was one of those races where everyone was boxed-in really tight and nobody would take the lead,” she reflected. Ward finished 3rd in 5:18 – two seconds behind a pair of girls from MD running powerhouse Hereford High School.
“I was just so angry from the 1600 and took the lead from the gun in the 800,” Ward recalled with fire in her eyes. “I just really wanted it and told myself I was going to just go take it no matter what. I ran like my hair was on fire!”
Nobody caught her! She finished in 2:23.51 – two seconds ahead of the girl who won the 1600.
Ward’s best times in the three track events are: 800 meters – 2:18.3 (regional outdoor champ 2014); 1600 meters – 5:07.2 (Zonis Invitational Champion 2014); 3200 meters – 11:25 (#3 in outdoor regional, 2014).
As is common with highly-disciplined distance runners, Emily Ward is also an outstanding student. She was in the International Baccalaureate program at North Hagerstown High School and finished in the top 10 in her graduating class this past spring.
Ward contacted the coaches at La Salle University who were quick to respond and encourage her application and admission to the school. “I wanted to go to a college in a big city like Philadelphia … a place with lots of things to do,” she said. “When I visited, I liked the team and the coaches. And I want to study in the Liberal Arts – I have lots of varied interests and don’t know what I’ll settle upon, but I’m going to start as an English major.”
Ward will be joining a La Salle University distance program that saw the women’s team finish 3rd in the Atlantic 10 Conference last year, though was 9th in outdoor track. Emily would look to be competitive for a possible varsity spot in cross country, as the two top girls were seniors, along with two others in the top 10.
Emily is one of seven high school recruits joining the program as freshmen. She has the third fastest 1600 meter time of that group, which includes a girl from Texas who ran 4:48.
<Editor’s note: The Baltimore Wire would like to regularly feature MD high school athletes who are at the top of their sport and headed toward college programs. We welcome basic bio and contact information about such to be sent to [email protected].>