Seaholm's Belf goes the distance in two sportsTrack and Field  |
Birmingham - Like most kids growing up in Oakland County, Audrey Belf started playing soccer at an early age. But a personal observance steered her along the trail to another sport.
"I was always the fastest on the soccer field, but I was always the smallest girl on the field," laughed Belf, now a senior at Birmingham Seaholm. "I always loved to run."
Belf does not play soccer anymore. She turned in her soccer cleats for running spikes a few years ago. That decision has helped her develop into the premier female distance runner in Michigan and one of the best in the nation at the high school level.
"It's what I love to do," she said.
It's only fitting that Belf is one of the best and hails from Michigan. Over the past 15 years or so Michigan has produced a long string of nationally-ranked distance runners, some that Belf has competed against and others she has admired from afar or heard stories about their accomplishments.
Rochester's Megan Goethals won state championships in cross country and track. Goethals won the Division 1 cross country titles in 2008 and '09, and won the mile and two mile in both '09 and '10. She was a national champion and named Miss Country, an award that Belf is expected to run away with in November.
Rochester Adams' Katie Boyles won four straight state championships in the late 1990s and early 2000s, while West Bloomfield's Erin Finn, Grand Blanc's Gabrielle Anzelone, Rochester's Brook Handler, Grosse Pointe South's Hannah and Haley Meir, Allendale's Ali Wiersma, Breckenridge's Kirsten Olling, Wyoming Kelloggsville's Nicole Bush, Grand Rapids Christian's Julia Bos, Clarkston's Jenny Morgan, Waterford Mott's Shannon Osika and Cedar Springs' Kenzie Weller, among others, have shined at amazing levels in cross-country and the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs in track and field.
In fact, Goethals (16:54), Handler (17:00), Anzelone (17:01), Finn (17:07), Boyles (17:17), Osika (17:17) and Bos (17:20) own the fastest times for Michigan's cross country state meet at Brooklyn's Michigan International Speedway.
Belf, in the mud, won the Division 1 state champion last year with a time of 17:31. She hopes to join that elite class this season on Nov. 2 at the state finals with a time "well under 17:20," she said.
Understandably, Belf has drawn comparisons to some of Michigan's all-time greats.
Last fall, Belf clocked 17:02 at an invitational at Huron Meadows near Brighton, turning in the fastest time by a Michigan junior in state history. At the prestigious Oakland County Championships on Sept. 27, Belf won by nearly a minute and her 17:44 time was third fastest in course history at Kensington Metropark behind only Goethals (17:40) and Finn (17:41), and that was on a hilly course.
No matter the meet, Belf seems to rise to the crop, just like her predecessors.
"Everything she has accomplished, she definitely belongs in that group," offered Jeff Devantier, Seaholm's cross country coach for 26 years. "She has an incredible work ethic, puts in the miles and never really complains."
Belf has climbed the ladder slowly, running 35th at the state meet as a freshman (18:59) to 33rd as a sophomore (18:32). A major uptick in mileage helped her win the title last season, part of an unbeaten season. Her time of 17:31 ranks among the top 25 state meet times.
Resume top shelf
Throughout cross country and track, Belf has more often than not finished near or at the top of the pack. She has placed at the Oakland Activities Association, Oakland County and regional levels in both sports dozens of times. She hasn't lost a league title in cross country or track in nearly two full years. Belf was the Oakland County champion in the 1,600 last May and is now a two-time county champ in cross-country.
Last spring, Belf anchored the winning 3,200 relay at the state finals with a tine of 8:59, just the second time a relay team has gone under the nine-minute barrier at the state finals. She has run a 2:09 split in the relay and 2:11 in the 800. Belf has run a 4:45.97 in the 1,600 and 10:07.5 in the 3,200 at the national level. The latter is one of the fastest times in state history and in the top 100 nationally.
Belf placed sixth at state as a sophomore in the 3,200 and ran away with the state title this past June in the extreme heat (10:17.08).
She carries a 4.4 GPA with an academic schedule that includes multiple advanced classes.
"I only know how to work hard." said Belf. "There's a lot of homework and a lot of training, but I don't mind.
"There has been so many great runners before me, that I feel honored to be among that group," added Belf, who runs for the No. 1 ranked team in the state, a squad ranked 13th nationally.
As expected, there is a long line of pursuers at the collegiate level. And with her impressive resume both in racing and in the classroom, Belf has plenty of options at the next level. She's being courted by schools from the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC but is far from making a decision. She will not disclose what schools she favors citing it will be a distraction to her team and her specific individual goals.
"I will take some visits after the (cross country) season," said Belf. "Right now we have a lot of season left. We want to win the state title again. I think if we all run our best at the end of the season we'll have a great shot at it."
Seaholm won its first state title in 2012, but slipped to fourth last season. This season no team in the state has been even close to the undefeated Maples, who recently claimed their fourth straight Oakland County title and have six invitational wins this autumn.
Individually, Belf has high goals for herself down the stretch as a prep senior, looking to go under 4:40 in the 1,600, under 10:00 in the 3,200, under 8:55 in the 3,200 relay and become just the second runner to break 17:00 minutes at the cross country state meet.
She also hopes to qualify for the Footlocker national meet this December and finish in the top 10 at the prestigious event, which features 40 premier runners from the country.
"If the conditions are right, I would like to go after Megan Goethals' (cross country) state record," said Belf, noting that Goethals also has the 3,200 state record of 10:00.15. The Michigan record in the 1,600 is 4:39.6, set in 1985 by Bloomfield Hills Andover's Laura Matson, while the 3,200 relay record is 8:49 set by Grosse Pointe South in 2011, also a national mark.
"I know it won't be easy, but It is something that I am shooting for," added Belf.
After all, Audrey Belf is a Maple. There's nothing wrong with aiming for new heights, going the distance and standing tall - even though she's often the smallest in the field.Tweet