Before Nooksack Valley cross country’s Amy Jo Murphy entered this season, she had already reached a milestone. The always-short-for-her-sport junior had finally hit 5-feet tall.
“She came into practice and said, ‘I’m finally five foot!’” Nooksack coach Collin Buckley said in a phone interview. “It was a big accomplishment for her.”
But while being short might seem trivial, Buckley says it has shaped who Murphy has become as a runner.
When most people think of great runners, they think of long, lanky long-striders that can cover a lot of ground with little effort. Murphy is definitely not that.
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“She doesn’t take no for an answer,” Buckley said. “Being small, people think she’s not able to do as much. I think she takes that as a challenge.”
Murphy is quick to dismiss that notion. She’s lived with being short her whole life after all.
“It really doesn’t bug me at all. I’m used to it by now,” Murphy said in a phone interview. “If anything, I have a long stride for my size.”
It’s obvious Murphy refuses to blame anything for any success or failures she might have as a runner, and that’s part of what makes her “pretty exceptional,” as her coach put it.
The mental fortitude she has established both on and off the track is no doubt a landmark for Nooksack and it’s a big reason she’s going to state for the third straight year.
“As a distance runner, it definitely helps to have classic long lean build,” Buckley said. “But it comes down to strength of mind and strength of body. She’s always been a fighter from day one.”
Nooksack knew since she was in eighth grade that Murphy could be something special and they’ve been working consciously working her toward a potential state title her senior year.
A district title was in order first and she reached that peak on Saturday, Nov. 1, at the 1A district championships, taking home the title by beating Lynden Christian’s Sarah Ball by nine seconds.
“She is extremely coachable. She’s an amazing young talent,” Buckley said. “We decided to challenge her a bit more in the past. You have to take time with an athlete, especially when she’s small. You have to get strong before speed. It’s been a real difference.”
Murphy is the only Nooksack Valley runner who qualified for the 1A state championship on Saturday, Nov. 8, in Pasco, where she will aim to finish in the top two to qualify for Border Clash.
She finished two minutes faster than her next closest teammate at districts and sometimes that can be an issue.
When teams such as Meridian, Lynden Christian and Mount Baker qualify several athletes for state, they often have other runners that can compete and push their top runner.
Nooksack Valley and Murphy doesn’t have that luxury.
“She’ll run with guys if she needs to. If she needs to, she’ll run with the coaches,” Buckley said.
On easy days, Murphy will run with the rest of the girls and even she admits it does occasionally get distracting and she socializes a bit more. As a team captain since her sophomore year, though, she’s earned that right.
The other benefit of Murphy being so fast is she can cheer on her teammates after she finishes races.
“It helps me a lot, because then I can motivate them a lot better,” Murphy said. “I can watch them after my races and encourage them. It’d nice if they were up with me though.”
And that’s what makes her such a great leader, Buckley said. She is self-determined enough to push herself but still team-focused enough to be a captain.
“She’s always shown leadership ability. She genuinely cares for her teammates and it really shows,” Buckley said. “When she was sophomore, we thought it was a good spot for her. I was also thinking ahead and maybe it might give her an extra push for the next few years, give her a chance to be leader.”
Of course, at state, she’ll only have herself and that top-two finish, which Buckley said is certainly within the ballpark, to worry about.