Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Sarah Hastings was not without choices when the time came to choose a college.
The Crater senior distance runner, who had a solid cross country season in the fall and is looking forward to her final prep track campaign this spring, had appealing scholarship offers from three schools and canceled a visit to a fourth.
On Wednesday, she made it official, signing a letter of intent to attend the University of Montana in Missoula.
Hastings penned her name with the NCAA Division I Big Sky Conference school during a ceremony at Crater.
"I definitely had some choices," said Hastings, who selected the Grizzlies over Oregon State and Portland and nixed a recruiting trip to Iowa State. "It was a pretty tough decision but, ultimately, I think it's the right decision for me. I'm so excited. I felt really blessed to have so many opportunities."
She was sold on the team and coach Courtney Babcock, a former Olympian, and appreciated the coziness of the program. Whereas the larger schools had about 30 distance runners, Montana's program has about 10, she said.
"It's a smaller team, so I felt like I'd get more individual attention," said Hastings, who plans to study sociology.
She also valued a school that values its athletics and thought "it would be exciting" to be at one with a strong football program.
The Grizzlies made it to the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Series last season.
Hastings finished second in the Southwest Conference cross country district meet, then followed with a season-best effort in the Class 6A state championships, placing fourth.
Her time for the 5,000-meter race at state was 18 minutes, 24 seconds — a nine-second improvement over her district clocking.
"She's a competitor, that's for sure," said Comets coach Justin Loftus, alluding to Hastings' resolve when big meets roll around.
It's a delicate balance getting runners to peak at the right time.
"I think we timed it pretty good with a lot of our kids this year," said Loftus, "but she definitely came on."
A week after state, Hastings barely missed qualifying for nationals, placing 13th at the Nike Cross Nationals Northwest Regional Championships.
Earlier in the season, she captured the Chieftain Invitational at Valley of the Rogue State Park and placed second in the State of Jefferson in Ashland.
In track last spring, Hastings was top-three in the district meet in the 1,500 and 3,000 and placed 13th and 10th, respectively, in those events at state.
Her best times as a junior were 2:21.10 in the 800, 4:46.63 in the 1,500 and 10:19.33 in the 3,000, her strongest event.
She'll run this spring without the pressure of having to sort out college plans.
"But I still want to do well," she said, noting that her goals are to advance from what will be a tough district meet to state and have a high placing there.
Another goal is to challenge Kayleigh Tyerman's school record in the 3,000. Tyerman, who now runs for Florida State, went 10:05.12 in 2009. Hastings is about 15 seconds off.
Hastings will join a Montana program that in 2010 won the Big Sky title for the first time since 1984 but finished a disappointing fifth last fall. Four seniors had graduated off their championship team.
Hastings is eager to run for Babcock, who represented Canada in the 2004 Olympics and set her country's national records in the 5,000 and 10,000.
"She's a very good runner," said Hastings. "She knows what it's like to be at that level. It's encouraging to know that your coach knows exactly what you're going through."
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