You could say that Paulina Antaplyan didn’t have much of a track record.
Prior to this spring, when it came to running, the only experience the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy sophomore had was in sprinting up and down the soccer field.
And while her athleticism was never in doubt, there wasn’t much reason for anyone, including Antaplyan herself, to expect that her foray into track and field would be much more than a conditioning exercise for her more serious pastime.
“I wanted to run track to keep in shape for soccer,” Antaplyan says, “but I also wanted to be competitive in it.
“I tried it and it turned out to be really fun, and I really enjoyed it.”
Antaplyan has been more than competitive in her first year of high school track. As the season went on, she grew into the Tologs’ top distance runner.
She also proved herself among the elite of the powerful Mission League, earning a spot in Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Division IV finals at Cerritos College.
At the event, Antaplyan closed out her rookie season with two personal records and a pair of fifth-place finishes in her individual events.
“We’re super excited that she’s done this well, especially because it’s her first year,” Sacred Heart Coach Eddie Gorton says. “We don’t know how fast she is [yet]. She just keeps running, running, running, and we keep changing our goals every week.”
A quick study on the track, Antaplyan has been a surprise that keeps on getting better for the Tologs.
Her 1,600 times have steadily gotten faster, and her first attempt at running the 3,200, at the Mission League finals on May 6, resulted in a second-place finish that moved her on to the Division IV prelims on Saturday at Carpinteria High.
“I was really excited to qualify for the mile and two-mile, especially the two-mile [because] I had only run it one other time at a meet,” said Antaplyan, who qualified ninth in the 1,600 in 5 minutes 15.66 seconds and eighth in the 3,200 in 11:26.79. “I’m really excited to run against all the really great runners in the division. It will be fun.”
When Antaplyan first approached Gorton about going out for track, she made sure to explain to him that she had commitments to her club soccer team, and early on in the season, she was absent from some track activities to attend soccer practice.
Soon, however, Antaplyan did some shifting of her priorities, eventually giving up club soccer to focus full time on her quickly developing track abilities.
“As the season went on, she started running faster and faster, and she stopped going to soccer practice,” Gorton says. “It’s a good thing that she’s been successful, so she feels that she made a good choice.”
Antaplyan took to the competitive thrill of track and the camaraderie of the Sacred Heart squad from the beginning, but was also lured in by the success she began to have.
“It probably started after the first few dual meets when I started becoming comfortable with the mile and realized I could win races,” Antaplyan says.
Pretty soon Antaplyan’s teammates were taking notice of their new under-the-radar weapon.
“I was really impressed because I’ve been working on track for a while, and she just kind of came out and blew everybody away,” sprinter Noelle Niederhaus says. “I thought she did it [as a freshman] by the way she ran, but then when I found out [she didn’t] I was really surprised.”
Anyone who still hadn’t noticed Antaplyan got a definitive eye-opener at the Pasadena Games on March 28.
Antaplyan set a then-personal record of 5:15.70 in winning the small-schools 1,600 open race.
“She really blew onto the scene [there],” Gorton says. “That’s when it kind of clicked in her head like, ‘Hey, I’m pretty good.’”
Not only did Antaplyan win the race, but she did so against the reigning Division IV state champion in the event, Rachel Brajkovich of La Reina.
“I was really nervous going into that meet because I didn’t know what to expect, and I wasn’t ranked very high next to all the other girls,” Antaplyan says. “I just tried to stay with the pack, and at the end, I somehow pulled it out. It was just a really good race for me.”
Similarly to what Antaplyan has done this year, the Sacred Heart track team as a whole has shrugged off its lack of high school track experience and relied on athletic talent and gumption to carry it through a groundbreaking season.
It was the third straight winning season for the Tologs, but by far their most successful, as they finished a mere nine points away from capturing the Mission League title.
“We’re such a small school; we only have about 360 kids,” Gorton says. “So to be able to compete against the Notre Dames and Harvard-Westlakes is a real big deal for us.
"[Antaplyan] doesn’t even know how good she really is. If we had a whole team of Paulinas we’d be ready to go.”
And, with a core of four sophomores and three freshmen, Sacred Heart’s future is intriguing.
“There’s a lot of new runners [who are] freshmen, and the team’s just really great,” Antaplyan said. “Everybody somehow just pulled it out this year. We’re just going to get better and better.”
Success hasn’t gone to Antaplyan’s head. That’s clear when talking to her teammates.
“She gives 110% at each workout, and she’s a great friend and teammate to have on and off the track,” freshman Hailey James says.
Says Niederhaus: “She has a really good attitude where she doesn’t complain about any of the workouts. She’s the sweetest girl. She’s willing to work hard because she knows if she wants to be as good as she can be, she has to keep putting in the work.”
In the wake of her results in the final, the Tologs can count on Antaplyan to continue to bolster the program for the foreseeable future.
“I’m definitely going to want to run track again next year,” said Antaplyan, who also wants to run cross-country at Sacred Heart in the fall and go out for the school’s soccer team in the winter. “I don’t know what’s going to be going on with other sports right now, but it’s definitely something I really want to do again because I had a really great time doing it this year.
“With everyone on the team and just running, it was really fun.”