Engelhardt Has Olympic Trials Q In Her Sights

With a 4:09.70 win against pros on her résumé this season, prep junior Sadie Engelhardt is eyeing the 4:06.00 OT standard. (BILL LEUNG)

THE SEASON OF PREP JUNIOR Sadie Engelhardt (Ventura, California) has in a sense only just begun — and it is running hot. With her blazing 1500 time of 4:09.70 back in March and her 4:31.72 mile at the Mt. SAC Relays, she has set the bar high for herself and the rest of her season — which will include a couple “pro” races early this summer and, hopefully, the Olympic Trials in June.

Engelhardt aspires to hit the OT standard, 4:06.00, in the next month — a super-elite bar for a high school runner — however, running has not always been her main focus. She started in sports playing soccer at age 4, and did not even consider running until she joined the cross country team in fourth grade to stay in shape for soccer.

Pushing through her first few cross country practices she felt little enthusiasm for running. Yet, her first cross country race flipped her perspective 180 degrees.

“The first race, I think it was at one of our local parks and I just fell in love with the racing experience, pretty much,” Engelhardt says.

Her passion for the sport only increased from there, and when in seventh grade she began working with youth coach Matt Hammel, her momentum was primed even further. The seasons since have seen a non-stop flurry of Engelhardt rewrites to age-group and class-level all-time lists — in the mile, the 2M and on the cross country courses of California.

With two Div. 2 California State XC titles to her name — plus a harrier team victory for Ventura last fall — Engelhardt clearly has range. She turned in a 9:54.93 2M-equivalent (9:50.69 for 3200) in ’23.

Yet the mile is where she has shined brightest, earning T&FN All-America spot No. 5 as an 8th-grader(!) in ’21, the No. 3 position as a frosh and No. 1 last season.

The event focus is not changing in 2024 and the emphasis in training for Engelhardt and Ventura coach Josh Spiker has been speed-based work in order to keep her eyes on the Trials Q goal.

A key to Engelhardt’s success, confidence, and newfound goals, say both athlete and coach, is race-simulation type workouts on the track.

Says Spiker, describing that type of training way back in January, “I thought there were a couple key workouts where Sadie was by herself and I was like, ‘You’re ready to run 4:30 or under’ — it was the two sets of 400m-800m-300m [with 90 seconds rest]… so really kind of focusing on being by herself in the middle of the race.”

Although Engelhardt won the New Balance Nationals miles both indoors and out in ’23 and raced 4:13.04 for 1500 against a field of pros and one collegian at the Portland Track Fest last June, she wasn’t sure coming into ’24 how high she should set her sights. However, with the help of those speedy early-winter workouts, she and Spiker realized that the Trials standard, 4:06.00, was within reach.

Her 2:41.00i/4:34.45i in the 1000 and mile on consecutive days in the first week of February showed both speed and strength. The mile, at the New Balance GP, advanced her to No. 5 all-time on the HS ATL and showed her to be in 4:14 shape for 1500 barely 5 weeks into the new season.

Just 6 days after repeating as NBIN mile champion, she ran that smoking 4:09.70 outdoors at The TEN meet to finish 0.33 ahead of 24-year-old Lauren Gregory, the ’23 NCAA Indoor mile runner-up. To say the win turned heads is an understatement. A third straight mile win at the Arcadia Invitational in junior-class record time followed.

Two weeks after Arcadia, Engelhardt raced both the mile and the DMR at Mt. SAC, improving to 4:31.72 in the four-lap race, the No. 3 all-time prep performance. In the relay, Ventura’s team win took down the national federation outdoor record — which she claims she and her teammates didn’t even think they would break.

Says Engelhardt, “It was a super special moment — we didn’t really know that we could [break the record]. I mean Josh had said that we could potentially get that record but I think all of us were like, Yeah, no, we had no idea [of] the splits. I wasn’t sure of the time and so we kind of just went out there and everyone had a good day — I think it was just our day.”

The team culture and close-knit friendships certainly played a role in their success as a team at Mt. SAC. Engelhardt says Spiker — who on his boys team also coaches Div. I-bound standouts Anthony Fasthorse (Oregon) and Micah Grossman (Cal Poly SLO) — is the driving force behind the team culture and has created an extremely positive environment. Everyone is “hyped up” and encouraged to run for their teammates, building confidence in themselves, as well as in one another.

However, a new team in Raleigh, North Carolina, awaits Sadie after her senior season in ’25. Engelhardt signed as a high school junior — earlier than most preps — with none other than distance powerhouse NC State. She says her early decision alleviated a lot of stress with the recruiting process and that her choice boiled down to where she believed she would truly be happiest. Along with finding where she would feel most at home, a nurturing and supportive relationship with the coach was an equally important quality, which she found with the Wolfpack’s Laurie Henes.

Engelhardt cited, as well, the experience Henes — the architect of NC State’s ’23 NCAA XC victory — has had with so many former Wolfpack runners improving impressively in college and turning pro.

Acknowledging that armchair observers speak of a “burnout” risk given her prodigious youthful accomplishments, Engelhardt counters by saying her “ambitious work ethic” and strong personality will see her through.

“I’m very ambitious,” Engelhardt says. “I feel like I do what will make me better basically and I have a pretty strict schedule. I know what I need to do. Like if I have a run in the morning, I’m not gonna go out with my friends the night before.”

Spiker brings athlete experience of his own to guiding Engelhardt. Racing for Ventura High, he twice earned T&FN All-Am honors, in the 2M in ’99 and mile in ’00. Those with long memories may recall his atypical stress-fracture-limited senior season in the latter year. Limited by the injury to 14 miles a week of training (a ton of it purportedly uphill without running back down), he nonetheless ran 4:06.51 (pre-super shoes) for the mile and placed 3rd at the National Scholastic meet, forebear of the Nike Outdoor Nationals.

As for his coaching philosophy with big talent Engelhardt, he says, “Keep it fun, plan to progress each season with training, and remember that she is a high schooler and the social and team component is important for her growth. She has a great head on her shoulders and it has been an amazing experience to coach her.”

Engelhardt adds that hanging out with friends and hobbies outside of running create balance in her life. Visiting the beach and film photography are activities she especially values.

With the Trials Q standard less than 4 seconds away, Engelhardt’s high school season is in the wrap-up stage. One round of qualifying to the California State Meet (May 24–25) lies just ahead. Racing with the team in mind for her divisional 1600 race, she cruised in 4:48.86 pulling teammates Aelo Curtis (4:50.21) and Tiffany Sax (4:51.46) to big PRs. The scholastic-comp goal is to add two more State crowns to the three she’s already captured: ’22 mile and an 800/mile double last year.

The planned post-season schedule: 1500s at the June 1st Music City (Nashville) and Portland Track Festival meets on June 01 and June 09. After that, the Brooks PR Invitational and the New Balance Nationals. At the latter meet, she’ll once again be anchoring Ventura’s DMR. [Ed: Since this article was written, Engelhardt raced the No, 2 all-time HS mile, 4:28.46, at the Hoka Festival of Miles.]

One thing is certain — the future, like the past, looks bright for Sadie Engelhardt.

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