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State champ Duffy runs toward yet another title

By Tim Haran Daily Planet Correspondent
Friday October 05, 2001

Prep of the week 

Bridget Duffy – St. Mary’s 


One of California’s top high school cross-country runners ran the first mile of her career at an unlikely place – volleyball practice. 

It began three years ago when Bridget Duffy, then a St. Mary’s High freshman, sprinted past her volleyball teammates at an early-season workout. Her coach at the time, Bill Boselli, tipped-off the cross-country coaches to Duffy’s speed and nudged her into trying out for the team. 

It didn’t take much coercing. Even though Duffy, now 17, knew nothing about cross-country running at the time, she thought it must be better than spending every afternoon in a hot gymnasium.  

“I didn’t even like volleyball,” she says. “I just wanted to play a sport.”  

Shortly after her unofficial tryout, a St. Mary’s cross-country coach ran with Duffy, saw the freshman’s potential and asked her to be a part of the team.  

“It’s turned out better than I could have imagined,” Duffy says.  

She soon focused her full attention on St. Mary’s fledgling girls’ cross-country program. In 1999, its fourth year of existence and Duffy’s sophomore season, the team captured the North Coast Section title. That same year, Duffy placed first in the NCS competition and was runner-up at the state championship meet. 

Last season was a proverbial rebuilding year for St. Mary’s after the team lost four of its varsity runners. Duffy continued to dominate as a junior, however, winning her second straight NCS title and this time taking first at state with a time of 18:15. 

Now hundreds of miles removed from that first volleyball practice, Duffy is not only the defending state champion in Division IV cross-country but also one of the nation’s top high school prospects. 

Although Duffy’s college plans are still undecided, Division I schools such as Cal, Duke, UCLA and Oregon are recruiting her. She’d like to attend a school with a strong cross-country program, but it’s not essential. She’s more interested in getting her degree and a career in advertising or marketing. 

Despite her numerous athletic achievements, it was in Duffy’s very first race of her freshman year that St. Mary’s head coach Dennis Mohun saw the 5-foot-2 runner’s overwhelming competitiveness and team spirit. Earning the nickname “Bridget Toughy” for her strong mental attitude, Duffy’s first race included more than 150 runners. Duffy outran all but a handful. Even though she finished near the top of the field, she wasn’t satisfied. 

After playing traditional team sports such as soccer – and yes, even volleyball – while growing up in Oakland, Duffy didn’t immediately understand the rarity of her performance during that first race. 

“In other sports you only think of the winner,” she says. “But in cross-country, you can’t judge someone’s performance by asking them what they placed. It’s more about time and personal goals.” 

Personal accomplishments aside, Duffy’s favorite aspect of cross-country running is the ability to work together as a team. 

“I don’t think I’d be doing this sport if it was individual,” Duffy says. “You definitely need your team there and the group of girls I run with every day is great and it’s a lot of fun.” 

St. Mary’s is building on a foundation of three returning seniors – Duffy, Chelsea Torgersen-Bell and Amy Brennick – who understand that this year’s cross-country team is theirs to lead, says Mohun. The goals they set will not only benefit themselves but also the rest of the runners. 

“Bridget won state last year, but as a team we thought we could have been a lot closer (than 15th),” Mohun says. “So now we’re focusing on building team chemistry.”  

In addition to anchoring cross-country, Duffy also competes in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter events for St. Mary’s track team.  

If there’s pressure in being the defending state champion, Duffy doesn’t show it. She seems more concerned about not letting her team down than in proving her individual talent. This year Duffy’s desire for personal greatness is overshadowed by her hunger to see the team fulfill its potential and achieve its goals. 

“I don’t want to go out there and jog and disappoint my teammates,” she says. “I know they’re going to give me everything they’ve got, so I’ve got to do that for them too.” 

When she graduates, Duffy wants to be remembered as more than just a great runner. She wants to be known as a good teammate who helped establish a solid cross-country program at St. Mary’s. 

“Everything should be done with heart,” she says. “If you don’t put your heart into it, then you’re not going to get much out of it.”