IN SOME CORNERS of high school sport, debate rages over whether society is forcing young athletes to specialize too soon and thus damaging their long-term development.
The anti-specialization side may soon be using Sophia Gorriaran (Moses Brown Prep, Providence, Rhode Island) as exhibit No. 1. The precocious soph has seen plenty of success on the oval, good enough this winter to win honors as our HS Indoor AOY while qualifying for the Olympic Trials — all at age 15.
But she’s also a standout lacrosse player, one who will be competing in the state’s spring season concurrently with her outdoor track campaign. She still hasn’t had a chance to play for her high school team, but last summer she competed in a major multi-state club tournament and was the second-leading scorer.
“I just like how it’s a collective group or team,” she says of the stick-and-ball sport. “I like the team aspect. You really make a lot of friends in lacrosse. For track I really just practice with my siblings most of the time.”
Last year as a frosh Gorriaran made an impact in HS track even though the season was chaotic for all, setting an indoor class 800 record 2:03.98 and missing the outdoor standard by a half-second with a 2:02.90 run against pros in Memphis in August.
This year she has been on fire from the get-go, opening up with same-day PRs in the 400 and mile (55.50/4:47.21), then nailing a 1:12.95 for 500m 2 weeks later. The same weekend she anchored a World Junior Record 8:37.20 in the 4×8. At the end of January, she ran a soph-class record 1:27.02 for 600m that ranks No. 2 all-time.
That prepped her well for the big race, an 800 against pros at the American Track League III event in Fayetteville. There Gorriaran set her 2:02.44 PR in placing 2nd to Britain’s 27-year-old Adelle Tracey. That slipped her under the Trials standard by 0.06. Not much, but more than enough. (It also made her the No. 4 prep ever.)
Not shy to continue racing the big girls, a week later she competed at the New Balance Indoor GP in Staten Island, placing 5th in 2:03.94, more than 2 seconds behind winner Ajee’ Wilson but a stride ahead of Sammy Watson and Tracey.
Gorriaran was born to an athletic family: her grandfather won state titles in wrestling, bowling & tennis and was named to the state’s Wrestling Hall Of Fame. Her father competed in football and track for Brown. Brother Maximillian runs for BU and sister Natasha has signed with Penn for lacrosse.
“My siblings all started running at an early age,” she explains. “I just wanted to run with my family, so I started going to practices when I was 3½ or 4.”
As a kid, Gorriaran was all over the place at the track, from the sprints to the long jump. “I just grew up running the sprint events and my dad finally convinced me to run the 800 when I was like 8 or 9. I just kept running it and kept improving. And then I realized that I really liked it.”
By the time she was in the 8th grade, she had hit 2:08.52 in the 800 and won the event at national age-group meets.
The upcoming season will feature Gorriaran’s juggling lacrosse with track in a schedule that’s exhausting for mortals to even contemplate: “I work with a club lacrosse team and those practices are usually on the weekends, so we just have to find time for practices and tournaments and track meets. For high school lacrosse, we’re going to be practicing all week, so lacrosse and then track afterwards.”
For the record, she ambitiously says she hopes to do both track and lacrosse at the NCAA level — where both happen in the spring, same as high school.
Like everyone, Gorriaran had to train around the pandemic over the past year, though she admits, “I actually had a lot of opportunities to race in some big meets. That was really exciting, and I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to do all this if it were a regular year.
“I liked having to train right through the pandemic. Also, distance learning helped as well.”
For her school races this winter, Gorriaran has had to wear a face mask, a point of contention for many coaches in states where this has been required. “It’s more difficult than without a mask,” she admits. “I have a plastic thing that keeps the mask off my mouth so when I breathe I don’t breathe the mask in.”
Does the mask affect her performances? “Maybe a little bit, but you kind of get used to it after some time.”
Against pros, she hasn’t had to worry about wearing a mask in the actual race. However, one would think the race itself would be intimidating for the typical 15-year-old. Not so for Gorriaran: “It was just a different environment to high school meets. I thought it was really exciting to run against some of the best people in the country. I just thought of it as a race and focused on the running.”
Looking ahead to the Olympic Trials, she says she will focus on training and strength work beforehand. “I’m super excited to compete in that. It’s going to be really cool.”
She will turn 16 just 4 days before the heats begin. Her goal for Eugene is suitably modest: “Just to be able to learn something, and hopefully the next Olympic Trials, improve.”
Afterwards, she may even try a few European races, she adds.
Long-term, she notes, we may be seeing her in some longer races. “I like the mile. It gives me a lot of strength for the 800. I’m going to be running the mile a lot this spring to improve my 800.”
Last fall, she tried cross country for the first time, winning the Rhode Island Class-C meet and the next week ran 18:14 to place 3rd in the state’s overall championships. The week after that she ran on a fast course in Huntsville, Alabama, at the RunningLane championships, placing 7th in 17:20.
Racing is in her blood, she says: “I know it’s a competition and I love pushing myself to whatever I can do. I love competing.”