Kennard-Dale standout Ferner to run at NCAA Division I level for Toledo
Being "very family oriented," Kennard-Dale senior cross country standout Maddie Ferner didn't expect to attend a college eight hours away from home.
That was before Ferner visited the University of Toledo in northwest Ohio.
"It just felt right there," said Ferner, who made a verbal commitment last week to the NCAA Division I school. "At first, I wasn't sure I wanted to go that far, but the girls on the team there were just like my teammates here, so welcoming, like a family."
Ferner plans a unique course of study: a major in zoology with a minor in criminology.
"People say, what are you going to do, arrest animals," a smiling Ferner said. "But I could become a park ranger, and there's also a zoo just 10 minutes away from the campus."
A week after making her college decision, Ferner achieved a high school milestone when she broke the Kennard-Dale girls' cross county course record, which had stood since 2009. Ferner covered the 3.1-mile layout in 19 minutes, 52 seconds to eclipse the previous mark of 20:38 set by York Catholic's Kady Schrann.
"I knew it was my last chance to run it (her home course)," Ferner said. "It was kind of a goal of mine since I started running cross country. When I got to the tree loop (a mile and a half into the course), I got a surge of energy."
K-D coach Jeff Halterman rates his team's course a nine on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most difficult.
"There's a lot of running through thick grass and there are a couple of long hills," Halterman said. "On Tuesday, I saw Maddie coming off in the distance, and I knew, given her time at that point, that she had a chance to break the record."
Coach noticed her talent early: Halterman first became aware of Ferner's potential when she was in eighth grade.
"She ran a mile in the 5:30, 5:25 range. She showed promise there," he said.
Halterman expected Ferner to compete in track in high school, but he wasn't sure about cross country.
"Maddie was a die-hard soccer player," the Rams' coach said. "She wore a soccer jersey every day."
However, when it came time to select a fall high school sport, Ferner picked cross country.
"Coach Halterman and Coach (Karen) Graham, they found me and convinced me that cross country could be a great sport for me," she said.
Halterman said that Ferner has gotten better each year.
"I can't really point to any breakthrough race for her. She just slowly kept making improvements," he said.
Big goals: This year, Ferner, in addition to consistently winning league races, captured first place in her class (AA) at the Big Spring Invitational and placed second in her class at Penn State's Harry Groves Invitational.
Big Spring High School, in Newville, will be site of the District 3 Cross Country Championships on Oct. 31. The York-Adams Meet is set for Oct. 20 at Gettysburg High School, and the PIAA Meet will again be contested over Hershey's Parkview course on Nov. 7.
"I'm a dreamer, so first (place) is my goal at the York-Adams and District 3 meets, and top three at states," Ferner said.
The way she's been running, Ferner may not have to close her eyes to realize the goals.
Whatever the outcomes of the upcoming races, Ferner won't take full credit for her accomplishments.
"Cross country is thought of as an individual sport, but I could not have accomplished the things I did without the support of my family and teammates," she said.
Ferner's father ran with her on eight- and five-mile training runs, and her teammates ran in meets and practices with her.
At last year's York-Adams Girls' Meet, K-D runners placed one-two-three. Kayla White, who is now running at California University of Pennsylvania, won the race, followed by Caitlin Solomon and Ferner.
"Caitlin and I, we push each other to achieve better things," Ferner said.
The two will continue to push and encourage each other in the upcoming weeks as they bid to close out their high school careers with medals.
— Reach Dick VanO'Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.