An impressive freshman season put Sariah Harrison into Skyline High School’s record books with the fastest 5k time ever by a female runner.
A year later, Harrison has made eastern Idaho history again.
The sophomore was one of 10 Idaho girls this fall to break the 18-minute barrier, running 17:54.4 to repeat as 4A state individual runner-up at Lewiston Orchards for the state runner-up Grizzlies. The consensus among longtime District 6 coaches is that Harrison is the first eastern Idaho girl to run sub-18. Upon perusing Post Register data going back to the late 1990s, athletic.net data going back to 2006 and Idaho High School Activities Association state meet results going back to 1985, there is no evidence of an eastern Idaho girl breaking 18 prior to Harrison.
“That really makes me happy,” Harrison said. “It means so much.”
The sub-18 time was hardly her only milestone this fall. Harrison had top-15 finishes all season, including six wins, and four sub-18:15 times. She became the first District 6 girl to win the Cardinal Classic since Blackfoot’s Michelle Pratt in 2016, the first District 6 girl to be overall individual champion at the Tiger-Grizz Invitational since Madison’s Rachel Morrin in 2015 and produced the fastest time by a District 6 girl at the Bob Firman Invitational girls elite race (18:14.4) based on athletic.net data.
For continuing to set herself apart, Harrison is the Post Register’s All-Area Girls Cross-Country Runner of the Year for the second consecutive year.
A year ago, Sugar-Salem head coach Brett Hill called Harrison “no ordinary freshman” and put her in the same sentence as greats Christine Kohler of Idaho Falls and Lacey Holder of Firth. With Harrison’s sophomore season ended, Hill said she is on track for many more ‘firsts.’
“I think she’s setting new standards in southeast Idaho for basically age group runners,” Hill said. “The level of running in Idaho has improved so significantly the last two years, it’s driving the individuals in this state to run faster if they want to compete. Sariah is the perfect example of that. I hope she can continue to improve. Next year, amazing things could happen if she continues to see the improvement from freshman to sophomore season.”
Longtime Skyline head coach Sean Schmidt said he was hopeful before the season began that Harrison would break 18 this year. Like Hill, Schmidt said he believes Harrison’s abilities are still reaching the surface.
“She’s kind of a once in a lifetime joy to have as a coach,” Schmidt said. “She has a lot of talent and we’re just trying to pick away at it. I think she has a good chance to have better times next year and by the end of the season and even after that. I don’t see her plateauing any time soon.”
Harrison said breaking 18 was ‘not at all’ on her mind going into this season until Schmidt brought it up with her at Bob Firman. Her first reaction was bewilderment.
“I was like, ‘That’s what all the fast girls run...the super fast girls,’” Harrison said, laughing.
After she ran 18:14.4 to place 12th in the Bob Firman elite race, however, the possibility of breaking 18 seemed more real. It then became a goal the more she worked with Schmidt and Skyline assistant coach Erica Wendt Richardson.
Now that she has joined the sub-18 club, Harrison said she wants to keep lowering her personal record. Schmidt said she has shown she can maintain a fast pace for longer periods of time. One of the next steps is to maintain that pace without anyone around her.
“She has shown she can run fast times for 1,000 meters, for 400 meters,” Schmidt said. “She’s shown she can run fast times and now we’re just trying to make it so those fast times are gonna become her fast times for her races. We’re trying to teach her that she can run that pace without anybody around her so that she can not worry about somebody else’s pace. She seems to be responding quite well with those workouts.”
In more than half of Harrison’s races the last two seasons, she has been alone with a substantial lead. She said she enjoys meets where she has other runners around her, and two of her most intense races so far came this season: running in the lead pack of Bob Firman alongside Tori Gaitan of then U.S. No. 5 ranked Great Oak (Calif.) and being shoulder-to-shoulder with Twin Falls junior Mattalyn Geddes until the last 800 meters of the 4A state meet.
The finish versus Geddes helped Harrison identify one of two aspects of her running she wants to improve: her kick. The other is keeping up her pace during the second mile. She said she believes working on her strength will help accomplish both of those.
“I want my last two high school years to be the best they can be,” Harrison said. “I’m gonna do whatever I can to PR.”
Geddes also helped expand something Harrison already has: perspective. Harrison was brought into the running community by older sister, Skyline senior Elizabeth Harrison, and her friends. Harrison’s first two seasons of high school cross-country have introduced her to runners from all over, and she has become better acquainted with the ones she races often. Harrison said Geddes is a prime example of that. For as many times as they have raced each other in cross-country and track the last two years, they have become friends and exchanged phone numbers.
Before their last race of the season, the Nike Cross Northwest championship girls race on Nov. 10 at Eagle Island State Park, Geddes told Harrison how nervous she was. After finishing in 10th, Harrison immediately searched for Geddes. Upon locating her and learning Geddes placed fifth by thousandths of a second to qualify for Nike Cross Nationals, Harrison embraced her.
As much as she enjoys setting personal records, Harrison said what she loves most about cross-country is the running community.
“I’ve learned to not be afraid of your competition,” Harrison said. “They’re just the same as you. They go through the same things. They’re just trying to get PRs. We’re all trying to do the same thing here, so why not help each other out?”