FEATURE Sadie Engelhardt's Star Continues to Rise, Shine

Ventura's Sadie Engelhardt opened her sophomore cross country invitational season running the fastest time in the four-plus decade history of the Woodbridge Invitational. This week, she has her sights set on the Clovis Invitational and some historic times on the legendary Woodward Park 5K course in Fresno. (Raymond Tran photo)

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Surely, by now, you've heard of Sadie Engelhardt.

She's the 16-year-old Ventura High School sophomore runner for the Cougars' cross country team. She's the girl who ran 15:42.60, California's fastest three-mile time and the nation's fastest performance at the distance ever. She has several MileSplit videos on file that go as far back as her speaking as a national champion at age 13. Engelhardt, Gatorade's State Player of the Year in track and field in California for the 2022 season, is the same girl who began running in 2016 as an alternative to her initial sport of choice, soccer, but quickly found that her speed as a striker translated well to her success on a course or track.

Engelhardt was born in Massachusetts in 2006 and moved across the country to the seaside coastal town of Ventura 10 years later with her parents, Max and Shannon. The teenager has been spotlighted a lot in these recent years. Her athletic feats speak volumes. Since age 12, her accomplishments include a world age-group record, national youth championships, freshman high school records and even a CIF State track title in the 1,600 meters, finally besting graduating senior Dalia Frias of Mira Costa, in late May.

In high school cross country action last fall, Engelhardt made her debut at the Cool Breeze Evening Invitational in 15:59.90. She ran 16:04.60 at the Woodbridge Invitational and won the Ventura County Championship in 17:12.30. She was runner-up at the Clovis Invitational in 17:02.30, on the same 5K course at Woodward Park in Fresno, home of the CIF-State Championship meet.

In that race, she was edged by Newbury Park graduating senior Samantha McDonnell. In the postseason races, Engelhardt was third in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 final behind Frias (16:48.60) and Peninsula's Aishling Callanan (17:06.70). Sadie went 17:21.10. Then, at the CIF-State Division II Championship race, Engelhardt improved to runner-up status. Frias won (16:52) and Sadie went 16:58.70, a 5K personal best.

Now that you are caught up on Engelhardt's accomplishments as she prepares to compete in this Saturday's ASICS Clovis Invitational at Woodward Park, let's hear from some of those who spend time with her as she prepares to shine on the course and track, shall we?

That's family, friends, teammates, coaches and training partners.

"She's a world-record holder and she's just Sadie," says Ventura sophomore teammate Brody Daw, who has competed against and with Engelhardt in elementary and middle school races and as a member of the Ventura Tigres youth program. "She has the best personality. She's someone you want to be around and someone you want to tell when something goes wrong. She's always there to hype you up."

Juliette Nasarenko, a junior who runs JV for the Cougars, acknowledges Engelhardt's abundance of talent, but the way she treats others is especially poignant. "She is literally so nice to everyone. She's a great teammate, always congratulating people after the race whether they run for us or not. She's always out there doing her best, but then she is high-fiving, hugging people and doing everything. It is so special to have a person like her. She's a huge role model, she inspires a lot of younger girls and the success she has running says, "Hey, this is possible, you can do great things."

Freshman Aelo Curtis is a year younger than Sadie, but she has known the latter at Poinsettia and Cabrillo, too. Coming into the Woodbridge race this year, Engelhardt was happy to help all freshman runners who'd be competing in such a big, well-attended meet for the first time. Curtis appreciated Engelhardt's gesture.

"She's been very nice and very supportive, giving us really good tips for Woodbridge and what I should expect, that the competition would be really good," Curtis recalls. "Overall, she's just really nice and a helpful person. She's a very popular person, but she handles it all really well and doesn't allow that to get to her brain. It's really cool to have her on our team."

Daw, Nasarenko and Curtis noted the impact of being around Engelhardt this past summer when Ventura's teams traveled to Mammoth for some team bonding time as well as a tough training camp. The trip brought Ventura's female runners closer together.

"She's super funny and also really down-to-earth," Curtis notes. "We had great conversations at Mammoth. We shared a cabin and had a fun time. We all ate the same food, like Cheerios."

Daw enjoys seeing Engelhardt's success close-up as a teammate, but she recalls her first introduction to Sadie's talent when they raced against each other while representing different elementary schools.

"We were supposed to win the league," says Daw, who ran for Mound Elementary at the time. "I'm running and I remember Sadie coming right by me in the race, passing me and I was like, "Wait, who is this? Why is she sprinting? Why is she going so fast? I don't know if she remembers this, but I went up to her after the race to congratulate her. 'You did so amazing! You are literally incredible. Where are you from?'"

Someone who could answer that question is Hollis Costa, a current junior runner for Ventura High. He's known Engelhardt and her parents ever since they arrived in Ventura. According to Shannon, he and Sadie were part of an elementary school carpool.

"(Ventura teammate) Henry Hammel and I went to Cabrillo with her and she's my neighbor. I would see all of these crazy records Sadie accomplished, so when I knew she was coming to Ventura, it was exciting," he says. "I also knew at the current capability of the girls' team, Sadie would be too fast for them and I figured there was a good chance she would end up running with (the boys)."

That's exactly what veteran Ventura cross country and track and field head coach Tyree Cruz did. He's taken into account what other coaches, including Engelhardt's youth coach Matt Hammel and others, have done and, in coming to high school, Sadie has been a regular training member of the boys' varsity team.

"Someplace else and she might have been running alone," Cruz says. "We have a lot of solid guys around her to help her train. They accept her just fine."

The biggest change in her training with boys is an increase in mileage. Cruz said Engelhardt did about 33-35 miles as a freshman and the number is up to 38 so far this year.

"Unless she's running too fast, we can look at how she's racing and come up with training speeds she should run at. I've been trying to get people to slow down and hit the training speeds the way they are supposed to be. I know runners want to run fast and they want to get there."

Overall, Cruz has enjoyed the opportunity to work with Engelhardt, both her and in step with her parents, who have been "very supportive and who love the team," he said. Cruz said there were meets the parents took Sadie to during the COVID-19 pandemic when the high school season was shut down to maintain her running and that there was complete trust in what was happening at that time.

"Sadie's really coachable. We have a really good relationship," Cruz says. "We'll talk training, how she's feeling, what she thinks she needs to work on and what I think she needs to work on. There's a lot of give and take, but that's how I coach, not just Sadie but for most everybody. I'm very approachable and our kids know they can talk to me."

Talking to Sadie's mother recently, it is also evident that the success her daughter is enjoying is part of the joy of seeing her blossom. Shannon, a yoga instructor and business owner of Firehouse Yoga, and Sadie's father Max, who played collegiate soccer at University of Penn and is now a Ventura-area attorney, are proud parents.

"We're so incredibly happy for her," Shannon says. "Watching her succeed is every parent's wish come true. It comes down to the fact that she works incredibly hard. She's so determined and focused. I know when I was her age I was not like that. Her mindset blows my mind. She's a teenage girl. Her room is messy and she's a typical teenager, but she's totally grounded. Normal. This is her sophomore year, one that is academically challenging, and yet she's doing that, she's driving, she has a boyfriend, and she's balancing it all."

Engelhardt's success has garnered quite a following in this age of social media. When she finished the recent Woodbridge meet, scores of young girls and competitors gathered around her and asked to have their picture taken with her and she signed a few autographs.

"I think it is crazy that people look up to me," Engelhardt said on a MileSplit interview shortly after her Woodbridge meet-record performance. "I just feel that I'm putting in the work and having fun. Obviously, the results come out super crazy. But to have little girls come up to me and say, 'Can I have a picture with you?' It is super special. But I still haven't been able to wrap my head around it."

It is happening. It grows with each new faster time, record set and title win. You will definitely hear more about Sadie Engelhardt. She's in high school, but cross country and track provide ample room for her to grow on a state, national and, quite possibly, international stage. The next Summer Olympics are in Paris in 2024. The 2028 Summer Games host is Los Angeles. By then Engelhardt will have many, many more people who've heard of her.

"It's super exciting to even think that's on the path, that it is something she can see a glimpse of," Shannon Engelhardt says.

Ryan Blystone is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplit

Photos by DeAnna Turner and Raymond Tran