Things didn’t go according to plan for Hayley Jackson at Foot Locker Northeast regionals last year. She didn’t recognize the man trying to talk to her before the race, until he said his name.
Jackson, then a junior, was floored that her biological father chose that moment to reappear in her life after an absence of nearly 10 years. Shaken by the encounter, she fell during the race, ultimately finishing 87th place.
The Patuxent senior was determined to make an appearance on the national stage this time around. She followed up her third consecutive Maryland 2A state championship with a sixth-place finish at the Northeast regional meet to qualify for Saturday’s Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships.
Heading into the race at Balboa Park in San Diego, Jackson had what she considered to be reasonable expectations for somebody who finished sixth at regionals.
“I was thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll get like in the 20’s or something, that’s definitely my goal,’” Jackson said.
Jackson started toward the back of the pack but began picking off the runners in front of her one by one. She crossed the finish line 17 minutes 49.7 seconds after the starting gun sounded, edging several runners down the final stretch, to secure an eighth-place finish and second-team All-American honors.
“Now I have that comeback story,” an ebullient Jackson said in a phone interview. “Coming here has been absolutely amazing. . . . This is a great way to finish my high school career for cross-country.”
Annapolis senior Maria Coffin also outshot her expectations, joining Jackson as the other area girl to earn second-team All-American honors with a 10th-place finish in 17:50.2.
“I didn’t really do as well as I wanted to last year, so I definitely set a goal for myself to be All-American, which is top 15,” said Coffin, who felt she went out too fast last year. “I just stayed in the middle, almost toward the back for the first mile or so. I moved up slowly as the race went on and was really happy to finish 10th because that definitely exceeded my goals.”
Walter Johnson’s Abbey Green, Marshall’s Heather Holt and National Cathedral’s Page Lester — the area’s junior contingent — didn’t finish as high as they are accustomed to, but all three gained valuable experience competing against top-tier national talent.
Green crossed in 18:02.2 for 21st place, Holt (18:14.3) came in 27th and Lester placed 32nd in 18:20.8.
“I was pretty happy with it,” Green said of her race. “I kind of knew that it was going to be a different race than I had done before, because there were so many good runners out there.”