By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- For Katlyn Ayers, choosing a college was the easy part.
The agonizing decision for the Strasburg High School senior came last year, right around this time of year.
Heading into her junior season, Ayers had established herself as one of Virginia's top prep cross country runners by winning her second straight Group A state championship. But she was also a two-year varsity softball player, and that was the problem. To truly develop her ability, Ayers knew she needed to concentrate on running. That meant outdoor track and field. And that meant no more softball.
"The college recruiters told her, they said, 'Look, you have a future as a runner, but if you're going to compete collegiately then you've got to get involved in outdoor track,'" Strasburg track coach Glenn Proctor said. "I think that stirred her competitive spirit a little bit.
"... She loves softball, I'm sure she still does. She hated to leave her teammates, I can tell you. We had a lot of long talks about that."
Now, Ayers and Proctor can talk about Ayers' future as a full-time runner after she recently accepted a partial scholarship to run track and cross country at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.
Ayers said she first paid a visit to Syracuse, but her trip to UNC Greensboro was enough to settle her mind on a college choice.
"I went down there and visited, and it was a really nice place," Ayers said. "I hung out with the girls, and they were really nice. It just felt like a good fit. Then they did all the paperwork and I decided to sign off, so that's where I'll be going."
Ayers will be joining a solid program at UNC Greensboro. The Spartans won the Southern Conference women's cross country championship under coach Linh Nguyen.
"The girls are really intense about running, very competitive which I like," Ayers said of her visit. "Their spirit was really great. It was fun."
Back to that tough decision -- after making it last year, Ayers promptly dominated on the track. She won Group A state championships in both the 800 meters and 1,600 meters and set Strasburg school records in both of those events, along with the 3,200 although that distance isn't one of her favorites.
"She really, really likes that middle distance," Proctor said, "anywhere from probably -- I'd say 400, but I think her preference is the 800 and 1,600."
Ayers hasn't settled on any particular times she'd like to chase down in track this season, but she is certainly interested in repeating as state champion in both events.
"I just want to improve from last year, wherever that takes me," Ayers said.
Proctor said Ayers shows "a fierce competitive spirit" in all sports -- she plays basketball during the winter -- and expects her to do well at the collegiate level.
"It's a year-round commitment, but she's prepared to do that," Proctor said. "I think she really likes this. She has really found her niche, I think."