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Moving Full Speed Ahead

Sept. 6, 2002

Georgia Tech standout distance runner Katie Griffin has come a long way since her first practice on The Flats.

“Our very first run was supposedly an easy day, and I literally almost ran a faster 5k time than I ran in high school,” said Griffin, who has junior eligibility. “I went back to the dorm and called my mom and told her that there was no way that I could do that every day. Plus we started weight lifting, and I couldn’t walk down the stairs my first week. Now I tell that to all the freshmen.”

Griffin, a Stone Mountain native and St. Pius alum, should have a lot of advice to give any newcomer to the Jackets’ cross country and track program, as her time at Tech has not been an easy ride. She has battled injury twice to emerge as one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s top distance runners.

Tech opens its 2002 season September 14 at the Bulldog Stampede in Athens.

After earning all-region honors in cross country and helping Tech to its first-ever NCAA South Region title, Griffin enjoyed a stellar track season in 2002. She posted personal bests in the 3000 and 5000 meters during the indoor season, as the Jackets won their first ACC indoor crown. But Griffin’s big leap came outdoors, where she posted a school record and automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 10,000 meters en route to All-ACC honors.

Not bad for someone that turned to running as a way to stay in shape for the high school tennis season.

However, Griffin did more than keep in shape. She led St. Pius to the 1998 Georgia AAA state cross country title and a runner-up finish in ’99. Individually, she was a three-time all-state honoree in both cross country and track. She also won the state championship in the mile as a sophomore and was a runner-up in the mile and two-mile her senior season.

These exploits were enough to draw the attention of Alan Drosky, Tech head coach for cross country and women’s track, but he saw a lot more in Griffin. “She was a solid runner in high school, a good student, a great kid,” Drosky said. “She’s the kind of person that I want in our program.”

The feeling was mutual, as Griffin found all that she wanted in a program at Tech. “I came on my visit here and I just knew it was the place for me,” said Griffin, who chose the Jackets over Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and Auburn. “I was almost just throwing out a visit, but I came here and loved it. I loved the team. I loved Coach Drosky. Everything he presented was great, and I just clicked with the team.”

After a solid freshman cross country campaign, Griffin gave Drosky a glimpse of what was to come with a strong showing at the 2000 ACC Outdoor Championships. She ran personal bests in the 5000 and 3000 meters on back-to-back days, including a seventh-place finish in the 3000.

“She performed probably better than I though she was capable of at that point,” Drosky said. “That was probably our first glimpse at what a competitor she really is and that she had some potential beyond what I had thought.”

But just as Griffin’s collegiate career was getting cranked up, injury set in and sidelined her for an entire year.

She had plantar fasciitis, a very common and tenacious running injury to the bottom of the foot, according to Drosky.

“It started at the end of my freshman year, but I kept running on it and by the time school started my sophomore year, I could hardly put any pressure on it,” said Griffin, who had surgery over Christmas and slowly returned to running in the spring of 2001.

Over the summer Griffin added some morning runs to her workout schedule, which upped her mileage considerably and got her ready for a big 2001-02.

“I was kind of curious to see how she would come back from her injury,” Drosky said. “She came back well and had a really good cross country season and now we look back and see that was just the start of an awesome year.”

Griffin ran in five cross country races a year ago, ranking as Tech’s second or third runner in each meet. She placed 26th at the ACC Championships and 13th at the NCAA South Region Championships, which was good for all-region honors. She also was Tech’s second finisher at the NCAA Championships, where the Jackets placed a program-best 26th.

During the indoor track season, Griffin logged personal bests in the 3000 meters (9:44.46) and 5000 meters (16:53.27). Her performance in the 5k was good for sixth at the ultra-competitive ACC Indoor Championships and helped Tech defeat nine-time defending champion North Carolina for its first-ever conference crown.

“Last year everyone just got confidence,” Griffin said. “Tech has always had a good history, but we kind of thought that North Carolina and other schools were supposed to beat us. But we realized that we could compete with them. We’re just as good. Everyone put in all the hard work, and we just gained a lot of confidence.”

That momentum carried over into the outdoor track season, as Drosky had Griffin geared to compete in her first 10,000-meter race at the Stanford Invitational on March 29.

Drosky had this meet targeted because of the strong field and the history of fast performances. “The weather is perfect,” he said. “The sun goes down and it’s cold. There’s no wind, and the people in the race are just high quality. Some of the best times of the year are run at Stanford and that’s why we went.”

Griffin was well aware of the expectations going into this competition.

“I had never run the 10,000 before, and I thought, ‘He’s bringing me all the way out here, so I better do something,'” said Griffin, who was gunning for a NCAA provisional time in the race.

Griffin delivered an amazing performance, posting a time of 33:57.12, which eclipsed an eight-year-old school record and automatically qualified her for the NCAA Outdoor Championships. She was named ACC Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Performer of the Week for her efforts.

Griffin went on to earn All-ACC honors with a third-place finish in the 10,000 at the conference championships. She also placed seventh in the 5000 at the ACC meet, as the team placed third.

After competing on back-to-back days, Griffin developed some soreness on the outside of her knee, an area known as the IT band.

“It really took a toll on her knee and hobbled her all the way through nationals,” said Drosky. “She was not 100 percent going into nationals, and that was disappointing. Knowing the way Katie races, I think she would have done well and had a fantastic shot of being an All-American.”

Griffin finished 19th at the NCAA Championships.

Now fully recovered, Griffin is focused on the approaching season.

“Going into this year, we have confidence,” Griffin said. “And really if you have confidence, that’s one of the biggest things. If you know that you are supposed to be up there, you’ll get up there. Especially in cross country, it’s easy to settle in because you don’t want to hurt. But if you know you can be there it just raises the bar.”

With their performance last year, the Jackets have done just that. The team hopes to place in the top three of the ACC, claim another NCAA South Region title and move into the top 20 at the NCAA Championships.

Tech appears to have all the pieces needed to continue the improvement of the program. According to Drosky, Griffin, 2001 national cross country runner-up Renee Metivier and Amy Dock form one of the nation’s most talented trios. And while this group may have the talent to succeed, they also posses an amazing drive and willingness to work hard.

“With our team, no one is a slacker,” Griffin said. “You could have a team that dreads the workouts and wants to go at a slower pace, but our team is not like that at all. We are constantly pushing it, and nobody is looking for a shortcut. They all want to put in the time and the effort.”

According to Drosky, Griffin’s progress can be a source of inspiration for her teammates. “To me it just says you never know what someone is capable of doing. I never would have believed when I saw Katie in high school that she would be a kid who had run a sub-34 minute 10k in college. But here she is and with two years left, so it was an awesome breakthrough, not just for her but for all of us around her.”

-GT-

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