DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Runner Mia Olsen has commitment to excellence

As another Division I state championship cross-country meet approaches on Saturday (Nov. 16), Xavier Prep coach Dave Van Sickle reflected on his senior co-captain Mia Olsen and what she has meant to the Gators’ program.

“She has been pretty thorough in her preparation and what she has done in the races,’’ he said.

He further illustrated his point when talking about her overall four-year run.

“I was looking through some numbers a couple of weeks ago, the top 10 overall times in each of the four years (freshman through senior), and she is in the top five of each. Not many people can say that,’’ he said.

So there is one race to go and Olsen will put her two best feet forward, one right after the other, over and over. She will do whatever she can to make this one of the most memorable races of all.
Xavier runner Mia Olsen (XCP photo).
Olsen finished fifth a year ago to help the Gators earn the title. She was 18th as a sophomore as Xavier finished second and was 11th as a freshman as Xavier finished fourth.

Last Thursday (Nov. 7), Olsen finished second in the Division I, Section I qualifying event as Xavier won.

Asked about her final state meet, Olsen said, “It’s been kind of crazy here. Time (four years) went by really fast. This season has been a bit up and down, but we have really come together as a team. We have worked together really well.

“We would definitely love to be state champs, but you don’t want to be too confident. We have to stay focused.’’

Some of Xavier’s runners from last year walked in graduation, but the Gators have three other runners who were key factors in the triumphant state outcome – senior Jamie Stelnik (now a junior), who was seventh, senior Grace Valandra (18th) and junior Sammy Braun (23rd).

As for Olsen, it seems like she is always running, even when not on the race course.

She is in a number of clubs/civic groups at XCP, including the National Honor Society, National Spanish, Nu Alpha Theta, the Xero Club (treasurer), works on gradebooks and is the tribute editor for the school yearbook.

“You have to find a balance between your schoolwork and the other things. It’s also really important to have some “down time,’ ‘’ said Olsen, who enjoys being with her friends.

When she was a tadpole, Olsen was a swimmer, but she crawled up on land in middle school to breathe the air and became a runner who began to excel soon after. And she has remained there since, with cross country and track (also coached by Van Sickle).

Regarding her race strategy, Olsen said she needs to be flexible, depending on the course.

When she ran in the Mount SAC recently in California, there were three large hills, and at the Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix, site of the state meet, there aren’t too many hills, “just some smaller rolling hills toward the end,’’ she said.

“Either way, you want to get off to a good start, find a good spot, figure out the pace and be close enough to have your sprint at the end help you.’’

The Xavier cross-country workouts involve longer runs, strides, and hill sprints.

The state meet course has not changed much, which can be a good thing, “because you know more what to expect when you are familiar with the course,’’ Olsen said.

Olsen’s early years were spent in the Dallas area, where her father, Morgan, was a financial executive at Southern Methodist University (SMU). Dad moved the family to Arizona State when Mia was 7, and she enjoys it here.

But she is due to return to some of her roots next year after she recently committed to the cross-country program at SMU (she is due to sign a letter of intent on Wednesday, Nov. 13).

It should be a challenge, but she is looking forward to it, just like this year’s state meet.

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