Spring Grove phenom uses rare talent, 'crazy work ethic' to produce awe-inspiring efforts

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports
  • Spring Grove's Laila Campbell won three sprint titles at the York-Adams Championships.
  • Campbell was also a standout basketball player for Spring Grove's District 3 5-A title team.
  • The freshman is now taking aim at district and state sprint medals.
Spring Grove's Laila Campbell, third from right, would with the girls' 100-meter dash event at 12:18 during York-Adams League Track and Field Championships at New Oxford High School in Oxford Township, Adams County, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As Laila Campbell sprinted around the track to claim one of her three York-Adams League titles last week, a group of medal-winning boys’ sprinters watched in awe from the infield.

Campbell had separated herself from the pack — which was businiess as usual during a meet at New Oxford High School in which she broke a pair of league records as a freshman sprinter. That followed a basketball season in which she starred for a Spring Grove team that won the District 3 title.

“She’s a cheat code,” one boy said.

“She’s going to the WNBA,” another yelled.

Spring Grove's Laila Campbell wins the girls' 100-meter dash event at 12:18 during York-Adams League Track and Field Championships at New Oxford High School in Oxford Township, Adams County, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Standing 6-feet tall, Campbell is already arguably the Y-A League’s top female athlete as a freshman, and she's quickly establishing herself as a once-in-a-generation York County talent.

So, it would be easy to assume that Campbell has been dominant on the court and track all her life, but that’s not the case.

Campbell got started in track during second grade because her brother Chris, a junior at Spring Grove, was involved in the sport. While Chris was competing in the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics, Laila failed to advance past the district and regional rounds.

Brian Campbell, Laila’s father and a Spring Grove girls’ basketball and track and field coach, said the early struggles motivated her to improve. It also created the work ethic that has led to her success.

“It's rare when you get an athlete that is super talented but has a crazy work ethic,” Brian said. “She just works. When she puts her mind to stuff, she just works. She's one of those kids where she's waking up in the morning and she's already watched two hours of Hudl or she's lifting.”

That work ethic includes an estimated five hours a day of training, nutrition and stretching. Laila sees a massage therapist to help with recovery and the pair often can be found in the basement studying film for hours before or after games.

“It's definitely an advantage having my dad there because he can see what's going on at the practice and we can work on it at home and he studies the game for me so he can help me get better,” Laila said. “I feel like having my dad there makes me go harder and it helps my game improve greatly because he can help me at home.”

It took her six years, but Campbell claimed a national title on the track. In 2019, she was a member of winning 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams, and had previously achieved podiums for the long jump, 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash.

Surprising basketball success: Meanwhile, the basketball success was sort of a surprise.

Originally seen as a way to stay sharp outside of track season, it wasn’t part of the plan to spend much time developing her game. That was until a growth spurt happened and her skills improved.

Spring Grove's Laila Campbell, left, takes the ball to the basket while Hollidaysburg's Alison Hatajik defends during PIAA Class 5-A girls' basketball state quarterfinal action at Spring Grove Area High School in Jackson Township, Saturday, March 20, 2021. Spring Grove would win the game 71-59. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“When we started basketball, it just was something that we were doing to keep her in shape and give her a mental break, but then she started getting good,” Brian said.

Laila entered middle school at 5-10, but grew to 6-foot before her freshman year. Brian coached the junior varsity teams for Spring Grove and was confident she would be able to perform right away.

While her father believed in her abilities from the beginning, Laila wasn’t as sure. Always humble, Laila described herself as an athletic player, but didn’t think she was good until she got to middle school.

The freshman standout was fifth in the Y-A League in scoring at 16.2 points per game and scored a career-high 33 points during the district playoffs. She was a Y-A Division I first-team all-star and was named to the Class 5-A all-state second team.

Summers are usually spent preparing for the USA Track & Field events, so working on basketball by playing AAU is difficult to do for her. With the national track event canceled in 2020, Laila put more time into basketball to prepare for the increased level of competition, and it worked.

The 2021 national track competition wraps up on August 1, so Brian anticipates Laila will switch over to basketball-focused training at that time.

Spring Grove's Laila Campbell, center, moves the ball down the court while Hollidaysburg's Marin Miller, left, and Sydney Lear defend during PIAA Class 5-A girls' basketball state quarterfinal action at Spring Grove Area High School in Jackson Township, Saturday, March 20, 2021. Spring Grove would win the game 71-59. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Enjoying both sports: Laila doesn’t mind the loaded schedule and enjoys doing both sports. She has had conversations with her father about which sport she would like to pursue in college, but right now Laila is unsure, although her YouTube page bio says: “Track athlete in the making.”

For Brian, it’s been a joy to spend the past five months by her side watching the effort she puts into her sports be rewarded.

Spring Grove freshman enjoys record-shattering performances at York-Adams League meet

“It's been awesome just watching her work so hard. I'm proud of her,” Brian said. “Really just taking time to acknowledge and appreciate the hard work that she puts in. I think a lot of folks see lately that she is a great athlete, but there's so much work that goes on behind the scenes that she does that people really don't see. So, I'm just proud of her. She's managing our training, managing her school — she’s a straight-A student and takes challenging classes. I'm just proud. I enjoyed the chance to be on track and be on the court.”

She wants more success: Campbell won the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and 400-meter dash at the Y-A League meet and broke records in the first two events, but that’s not enough for her.

She enjoyed the success, but her sights are set on adding another district title on Saturday and a state championship to her list of awards during a freshman season that has left fellow athletes and fans in awe.

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“Like when we won our district (championship) game for basketball, it feels good to win that title, but I'm not really satisfied with that yet,” Laila Campbell said. “I want to go all the way to districts and states, and win states.”

Listen to the last York Dispatch Sports Podcast episode with Laila Campbell on Apple, Spotify or Google Podcasts. Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.