High expectations can prove to be an athlete's greatest downfall, and this year, Edison High School sophomore Shelley Taylor faced expectations as high as Mt. Everest.
Despite being praised since the season began, Taylor--in just her second year of running--handled the attention like a veteran. She was undefeated through the first 10 weeks of competition.
Her only loss came Nov. 25 at the state championships in Fresno, where she placed seventh overall, third among Orange County girls.
"I don't really feel pressure," said Taylor, The Times' girls' cross-country runner of the year.
"I can see where it would bother some people, but it doesn't seem to affect me."
Although Taylor said she considers her season a disappointment by virtue of her performance at the state meet, a quick look back at her winning streak should be enough to prove her wrong.
At the Laguna Hills Invitational Sept. 23, Taylor ran the fastest time of the day, 17 minutes 16 seconds.
At the Dana Hills Invitational Sept. 30, Taylor won in 17:03, more than a minute faster than her closest competitor and a sophomore girls' course record.
At the Central Park Invitational Oct. 14, Taylor won in 16:35 (in a 2.9-mile race), outkicking Agoura's Deena Drossin--the two-time state champion--in the last half mile to win by seven seconds.
At the Mt. SAC Invitational Oct. 21, Taylor caught a speedy Miesha Marzell of Sparks, Nev., who had a 80-yard lead in the first half-mile. Taylor went on to win in 17:50, outrunning second-place finisher Drossin by 25 seconds. Taylor's time on the course was the third-fastest ever for an Orange County girl.
In Sunset League competition, Taylor won all dual meets easily, and won the Nov. 4 league final by nearly a minute.
At the Southern Section preliminaries Nov. 10, Taylor won her 4-A division heat in a county-leading 18:30.
At the Southern Section finals Nov. 18, Taylor became the first county girl since 1981 to win a title, winning the 4-A race in 17:59, 23 seconds faster than her nearest county competition, Tanja Brix of University.
And then, the state meet.
While some speculated that Taylor's performance in Fresno might have been caused by an inability to handle the pressure, Taylor disagreed. She had been fighting off a bad cold for two weeks, she said, and when it came to line up for the race, physically, she felt miserable.
Taylor, who became more and more pale as the race progressed, was never in contention, and with a half mile to go, she tumbled to the ground.
When she returned home, Taylor was tested for anemia and mononucleosis, but doctors told her it was a severe sinus infection that caused her health problems.
"I get so bummed when I don't feel good in races; it's like it's not fun anymore," she said. "And I wasn't feeling good in the last three races. I feel bad, but besides the last three races, I'm satisfied with my season, I guess."
ALL-COUNTY: GIRLS' CROSS-COUNTRY FIRST TEAM
Name Yr. School Tanja Brix So. University Teresa Beltran Sr. Santa Ana Valley Martha Pinto Jr. Katella Kim Robinson Sr. Newport Harbor Shelley Taylor So. Edison Susannah Thrasher Sr. Villa Park Terri Smythers Jr. San Clemente
Name Yr. School Natalie Adam Sr. Huntington Beach Kristina Dahlberg Fr. El Modena Christie Engesser Fr. Ocean View Tracy Fatone So. Los Alamitos Sonja Hildebrand Jr. Mission Viejo Kaci Keffer Sr. Woodbridge Kelly Roda Fr. Irvine