AOTY GIRLS DISTANCE Engelhardt, Frias Rewrite History


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One in a series of articles profiling 2022 track and field athletes of the year by event grouping as selected by MileSplitCA editors.

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It was a year like no other for the top-tiered girls distance harriers in 2022. For the first time in California state history, we witnessed four girls break 4:42 for the 1600 meters in the same season (and in the same race!).   For the first time since 2007, we saw three girls break 4:40 but none break 4:38, whereas we had three do it at the State Meet!

The depth for the event was unmatched with 33 girls eclipsing the 4:55 mark along with 61 altogether breaking the coveted 5-minute barrier!  The previous best we had seen in regard to 4:55, was 26 from the 2018 season.

This was also one of the best seasons in state history for the 3200 meters with two girls breaking 10:00 for the first time since 2008. And it was the first time since 2007 that two girls crossed under 2:07 for the 800 meters.

But, it was truly a season for the ages in regard to two young ladies -- both on opposite sides of their prep careers. One leaving off to attend Duke University in the fall and the other competing in her first season of high school competition.

With that, the MileSplit CA Girls Track and Field Athletes of the Year are senior Dalia Frias from Mira Costa (SS), and freshman Sadie Engelhardt of Ventura (SS).

Frias wrapped up one of the most decorated prep careers in national history by establishing a new national record with her monster performance for the two-mile event at the Brooks PR meet in Seattle. Taking over the race over the final laps after opening in 4:53 (2:25-2:28 800m splits) for the first half, Frias closed with a 69-second last lap to run 9:50.70, holding on for the victory over Irene Riggs (9:50.72) of Morgantown, West Virginia.

Equating out to a 9:47.3 for 3200 meters, this broke the previous longtime national record of 9:48.59 set by Kim Mortensen of Thousand Oaks (SS) in 1996!

This capped off a season where Frias also provided us with that unforgettable kick that we witnessed at the APU Distance Meet of Champs where she established a new California state record for the Mile in 4:35.06, breaking Polly Plumer's (University of Irvine) 4:35.24 from 1982.  Amazed even by her own ability to unleash that last 300 meters to the victory, this is when Frias admitted that she knew that was in uncharted territory in regard to her training fitness and bigger goals now lay ahead. 

At the Arcadia Invitational, she controlled the pace in her wire-to-wire victory of 9:55.50 for the 3200 meters. This established a new Arcadia Invitational record for the event and at the time, was the seventh-fastest in state history. The previous week, Frias put down an impressive 2:09.88 tune-up for Arcadia, which ended the season as the eighth-fastest in CA for 2022.

Frias went on to run 4:37.09 at the California State Meet for the 1600-meters to place second to Engelhardt (4:36.67) in the fastest race in State Meet history.

Frias will go on to Duke to major in Biology.  She looked at several top east coast institutions such as the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina, and Princeton among others. But, in the end, she felt that Duke provided the right balance between athletics and academics while she "absolutely loved the campus."  She shared, "right when I visited, I knew it was the place for me and I could not be more excited."

Recently heralded as the Gatorade CA Girls Track and Field 'Player of the Year', Engelhardt completed a season where she seemingly established a new freshman national record every several weeks.

Engelhardt won the CIF State title in the 1600 in 4:36.67 and was second in the 800 meters in arguably the most impressive 800/1600 double in State Meet history.

Engelhardt won the Mile at the Arcadia Invitational in 4:35.16, which set an under-16 world record and was the No. 4 time in U.S. girls' high school track history. With a camera set up at the 1600-meter mark, her 4:33.29 en route performance is a new California State record, eclipsing the 4:33.54 from Frias just weeks earlier.  

After her busy weekend at the California State Championships, Engelhardt broke the state record in the 1500 meters with a time of 4:11.79 at the Portland Track Festival, which ranked as the nation's top performance in 2022.  

Engelhardt concluded her 2022 campaign earlier in June securing a national title in the mile at the NSAF Nationals meet finishing in 4:38.40. Earlier in the week at the Brooks PR Invitational, she placed second in a time of 4:36.50.

Over the course of the season, Engelhardt eclipsed the 4:40 mark on six occasions.

The freshman also ended the season with the top time in the state in the 800 meters with her 2:05.66 from the West Coast Relays.  This is the second-fastest freshman mark in California state history and 10th overall while she was the first to break 2:06 for the event since 2011.

Before embarking upon her historic postseason run, Engelhardt's 9:50.69 wire-to-wire performance at the Ventura County Championships is ranked fourth on the all-time list for California. At the same time, It also established a new national freshman record.  

"Sadie may be one of the best runners in high school history, but she's so much more than that," said Tyree Cruz, Ventura distance coach. "She's also a great teammate who loves her team and is always there for them." 

She also anchored her girls' 4x400-meter relay squad to a qualifying time for the State Meet.

Cruz added that his long-term goal for Engelhardt "is that she loves running coming out of high school." 

With that approach, they minimized her training to only 35 miles a week, leaving much more to build upon in her future years.  They also incorporated the dual meets and a number of invites as no more than workout days, using a more cautious approach that focused primarily on developing her aerobic strength. 

Leaving more for down the road as keep in mind, that she only raced the 3200 meters, competitively, on two occasions (an early season 10:00.60 and her 9:50.69) while they are taking an extended break this summer and will patiently transition back into the cross country season this fall, where she is CA's top returning girl on 3-mile courses (15:50.90) and the No. 2 girl on 5K courses (16:58.70).

Frias and Engelhardt join an elite group that has broken 4:40 and 10:00. Before 2022, only Jordan Hasay (Mission College Prep/CS) and Mia Barnett  (Crescenta Valley/SS) had previously achieved that feat.  

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Mark Gardner is a teacher, announcer, former coach, and a regular contributor to MileSplit.

Photos by Jamie Mitchell, DeAnna Turner, Daniel Hernandez, Kirby Lee/Image of Sport, Pat Rhames, and Dan Tyree.