Paige Stoner prepares to kick for the homestretch of her Syracuse career

first_img Published on October 17, 2017 at 10:55 pm Contact Billy: wmheyen@syr.edu | @Wheyen3 When Paige Stoner was about 8 years old, she made the Pottsville Minor League little league boys’ baseball all-star team. At the team’s practices, players had a running competition where one took off for first base and then another player, after waiting a couple seconds, tried to make up the difference.“Nobody ever liked to be the guy in front of Paige,” Daniel Stoner, Paige’s father, said. “They didn’t like getting beat by a girl.”Stoner, now a senior at Syracuse, outruns most competitors. In the first three races she’s run this season, Stoner has placed as the top finisher for the Orange. At the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational, she finished second overall. At the Battle in Beantown, she finished third. And at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, she finished 24th, running her fastest 6K at Syracuse in 20:16.2. Every bit matters to Stoner, because last season she didn’t qualify for the NCAA Championships. At the Northeast Regional, she finished fifth for a non-NCAA qualifying team. She missed out by one place.Yet this is Stoner’s plan, the one that led her to transfer to SU to chase “big goals.” This season, she and SU head coach Chris Fox decided that meant becoming an All-American, attained by finishing top-40 at the NCAA Championship in Louisville, Kentucky, on Nov. 18.“She’s gone from a person that we thought could make it to nationals,” Fox said, “to a person we thought could do really well at nationals.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAndy Mendes | Digital Design EditorStoner didn’t start out as a runner. She played youth soccer, baseball and softball in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, but soon Stoner realized she enjoyed the running part of those sports as much, if not more, than the sport itself. She ran and ran and she seemed to never feel tired. Stoner ran all over the state as a high schooler and then onto the team at Lipscomb University, a private Christian school of about 4,000 undergrads in Nashville. The one constant through Stoner’s journey was her routine and attention to detail: A prerace breakfast of a whole-wheat English muffin topped with peanut butter.“As a kid, she hated having wrinkles in her socks,” Denise Stoner, Paige’s mother, said. “(Paige would say) ‘Oh my god, I can’t move, there’s wrinkles in my socks.’”In seventh grade, Stoner began running cross country and, two years later, she gave up soccer to pursue running full time. As a high school freshman, she finished second in the AAA girl’s cross country race at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association state championships. There, she saw a future in the sport she’d just started.“It was more of a love for her,” Denise said. “(She) realized that it was basically in her nature to run … We’re not sure where that comes from. I’m a walker, I do walk but I’m not a runner.”The recruiting letters from colleges first arrived in Stoner’s sophomore year of high school, her father said. Syracuse expressed interest but Stoner wanted to study nursing, a program SU doesn’t have. She instead ended up at Lipscomb. Stoner, who was raised Catholic, liked the university’s religion and small-school environment. Most runners on the cross country team were Christian.But the method of training at Lipscomb worried Stoner. She called it “a little bit drastic, really intense.” Some of her teammates, she remembered, lost their “love for the sport” because of the training routines. Stoner considered transferring by the end of her freshman year. The next step came the ensuing fall after she stepped off a plane in November 2015.It was Thanksgiving break and Stoner flew from Nashville, Tennessee to Philadelphia, where her father picked her up at the airport. The conversation the father and daughter had shocked Daniel.“She told me she wasn’t happy,” Daniel Stoner said. “And then at the same time, she decided she didn’t really want nursing and was interested in education. So I guess that’s when she started thinking about Syracuse again.”After that discussion, there were more flights to go on. After Stoner returned to Lipscomb to finish the semester, she made three separate trips: To William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, to Syracuse and to Boise State in Boise, Idaho.Stoner knew Syracuse’s Malone sisters, Shannon and Mary, from competing against them in high school. Stoner got in touch with them to check whether Syracuse coaches still had interest in her. They did. Stoner’s professional aspirations, her mother added, paired well with Fox’s “stellar reputation” and professional connections. Those factors outweighed even Stoner’s initial desire to go south for college to avoid running in the cold.“I just knew I had big goals,” Stoner said. “Ultimately that’s why I chose Syracuse, because I know they’re a great program and I knew that I could run well here.”Andy Mendes | Digital Design EditorFox felt comfortable taking in Stoner as a transfer because, generally for runners, the ability easily translates. The Atlantic Sun Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference don’t time miles any differently.Stoner was coming off an injury suffered at Lipscomb when she arrived at Syracuse, so she redshirted track her first semester, the spring of 2016. Then, Fox said, she had trouble running up to the level of her practices in the fall. But, since the ACC Championships during indoor track in Stoner’s junior year, Fox said she’s “really gone to another level.”Since getting to SU, Stoner has felt buoyed by the program’s higher expectations, pushing her harder to improve further. She pointed out the men’s team’s success as something that draws out the best in all the runners. The women’s team also gains leadership from its fastest runner, who displays a trait she honed in high school. At Pottsville Area (Pennsylvania) High School, her father said, some of Stoner’s teammates liked to hide in the woods instead of running the workouts. Eventually, her father remembered, Stoner convinced them to get back on the road without a word. She just ran. She still leads that way, Fox said.“Emotionally, she’s a bulldog. Relentless,” Fox said. “She just goes out and runs every workout hard. She doesn’t take any prisoners. She just does her thing and if you want to follow her that’s great, and if you don’t, she’ll trample you.”It has always been that way. When Stoner was 5 years old, her father remembered, she scored five goals in a soccer game simply because “nobody could catch her.”She hopes the same will be true in a month at the NCAA Championships, because now, Stoner is closing in on the race she wanted to be in all along. She flew across the country two years ago, searching for the school that could get her to that race. Once she’s there, the senior’s “big goals” will be waiting at the starting line, and she’ll just have to catch them, too. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

No Comments yet, be the first to reply

Paige Stoner prepares to kick for the homestretch of her Syracuse career