EAGLE — Chase Meyer has been Skyline’s head track and field coach for six years, 13 counting his years as an assistant. He’s seen his fair share of athletes. Some of the Grizzlies’ best have competed under his watch, seniors and freshmen alike.
When he thinks of the best freshmen, though, Nelah Roberts’ name comes to mind immediately.
“She’s hands down the best freshman we’ve had,” Meyer said.
Then, as athletes shout and laugh and Saturday’s 5A/4A state track meet unfolded around him, he added a side note: “Since Sariah,” referring to senior Sariah Harrison.
There may be no better way to capture the way Roberts, a freshman, and Harrison, a senior, have impacted Skyline’s distance running program. In fact, they represent an interesting dynamic.
On one end is Harrison, the elder statesman who wrapped up her Skyline career on Saturday. On the other is Roberts, the precocious freshman who may have the brightest future a Grizzly has ever seen.
On Saturday, the spectrum shone like the sun. Roberts won Friday’s 3,200 title in 10:54.28, which broke a school record that previously belonged to Harrison. Roberts captured a second state championship in Saturday’s 1,600, clocking in at 5:03.00, another school record. Harrison took eighth in both the 3,200 (11:29.50) and the 1,600 (5:15.96).
That signaled the end of the career of Harrison, the “mother hen,” as Meyer likes to call her. In a poetic way, she yielded to Roberts, who may soon eclipse her teammate’s accomplishments. It’s a friendly exchange. They speak of each other glowingly, so it’s easy to see why Roberts feels so comfortable piling up accolades that rival Harrison’s.
“It’s been really great to have Nelah. It reminds me a lot of my freshman year,” Harrison said. “She’s helped me to keep that drive to personally improve, and I’ve helped Nelah to keep the end in sight. Nelah’s been so great for me. I think we really balance each other out.”
Already, their performances nearly mirror each other. As a freshman at state, Harrison placed second in the 3,200 and fifth in the 1,600. The next year, she won silver in both events, clocking in at 5:06.86 in the 1,600 and 10:57.11 in the 3,200. Compare those numbers with Roberts, who has already clinched two state championships in her first trip to the state meet.
Roberts says she’s picked up plenty of lessons from Harrison, though few involve running. Harrison tried to think of competition tips she’s shared with Roberts — “I don’t even know if I can think of any,” she laughed — but she couldn’t. Instead, the senior has passed on a value to the freshman: Gratitude.
That’s because last year, Harrison had to learn the trait herself. In March 2020, she began battling fascia adhesion in her shins, which prevented her from walking without pain. She set up mats around her home to help ease the discomfort. On her own, she never found success.
That changed the trajectory of the back end of Harrison’s high school career. She’s often a shoe-in for medals and state points, but she isn’t the runner she once was. She’s not the same person, either, at least in one way. Nowadays, she values gratitude far more than she ever did.
“I think running’s a gift from God. Every step is a gift from God,” Harrison said. “That whole experience, for me, has really made me so grateful for the little things. I think in everything I do, I kind of express that because it’s changed my life. With every step, I think about it.”
Mostly, that’s what Roberts has gleaned from Harrison.
“Anything can happen. So enjoy what you have right now,” Roberts said. “You can use what you have right now.”
What makes Harrison and Roberts’ friendship particularly compelling, though, is what ties them together. They both run in large part because their families did. Harrison’s sister, Elizabeth, ran at Skyline and graduated in 2019. Her uncles, Nathan and Robert Harrison, ran at Meridian in the early 2000s.
Same goes for Roberts. Her sister, 2020 graduate Adria, was a sophomore on Skyline’s 2017 team, which won the program’s first state title. Her brother, Harrison, was a sophomore on the 2016 team, the one that won another state championship.
“I’m super proud of her,” Adria said of Nelah. “At first, when I was in middle school, I was jealous. I was worried that she was going to be faster than me, to be honest. She’s doing so amazing. I’m so proud of her. She is even more than I imagined.”
Now, Nelah Roberts’ job shifts toward keeping up the tradition established by her peers. It’s important to her. She wants to make everyone proud, her family and her teammates, but she also wants to accomplish things for herself. It’s a delicate balance to strike, but Roberts is walking the tightrope remarkably.
Part of that balancing act includes bidding farewell to Harrison, who has grown beloved by her community. Roberts may break her records. Harrison’s intangibles will stand for far longer.
“Sariah has been such a great leader with those distance kids,” Meyer said. “She has as much heart as anybody I’ve ever coached, and as much drive as anybody. I think Nelah and those other girls all feed off of her, and her drive that she has. It pushes them to be even better.”