FRONT ROYAL -- Ava Bordner's start to her Skyline cross country career got off to an unusual start but was a sign of things to come.
Last year as an eighth grader, Bordner was entered into the Judges Classic at Handley in the junior varsity race at the last minute and then-head coach Rodger Seemiller entered her under a different name thinking she would finish somewhere in the middle of the pack. Bordner won the race.
Bordner's mom, Misty, was as an assistant coach last year and said she had no idea how well she would do.
"We actually put her in the Handley meet as a different person because we didn't know she would do well," Misty Bordner said. "We listed her as (teammate) Destinee Manning and then she won the (Judges Classic) JV last year. (Seemiller) was like 'you didn't tell me she was good.' And I was like 'I didn't know. I didn't know.'"
It's safe to say that both Misty Bordner and Seemiller, who have switched coaching spots this year, are very aware of how good Ava Bordner is now. The rest of the area is quickly learning how good the freshman is as well.
In her first three big varsity races this season, Ava Bordner won one and finished second in another one.
Ava Bordner began running as a seventh grader. She said that teammate Sabrina Wilkins helped talk her into giving the sport a try. It took a year for her to start to succeed, but last year she enjoyed plenty of success at the junior varsity level.
Ava Bordner said that she learned a lot from Wilkins, now a senior, and 2019 Skyline graduate Carrie Hotek. Last year, Hotek finished sixth in the Class 3 state meet and Wilkins placed eighth.
"I saw Carrie (Hotek) and Sabrina (Wilkins) running and I was like 'I want to be like that,'" Ava Bordner said. "So I just kept practicing like they did and I just watched them and then did that."
Ava Bordner also has a role model close to home as her mom has been a runner for over 10 years and has run in five marathons, including the Boston Marathon.
"I would not have started running without her," Ava Bordner said. "I remember my first time running I was like 'I don't know why people do this for fun? Then she started taking me (on runs) more. She never made me do it. She was like 'you don't need to go' and I was like 'I'm going to go because I need to if I'm going to get better.'"
Misty Bordner said that she has made sure not to push her daughter too hard. She said she has limited Ava's mileage and she will increase it as she gets older and is ready for it. Ava Bordner has never done track and has instead played club lacrosse for the last four years, although she said that this year she may participate in indoor and outdoor track for Skyline.
In her first varsity race at the Central Invitational on Aug. 31, Bordner finished second in a time of 19:00. The race was won by Campbell Pagel, of Class 6 school Osbourn Park. Skyline is a Class 3 school.
Ava Bordner said that she was surprised by how well she did, especially considering how nervous she was. She said her teammates helped her out a lot.
"My teammates were pushing me and they got me so hyped for that race," she said. "I was really excited for what I did and they were so excited for me. I just love everybody. They're awesome and they support me. I was really nervous before the race but Sabrina (Wilkins) and everyone was just comforting me because I was like 'oh my gosh, it's scary.'"
The next week Ava Bordner ran in the Judges Classic, this time registered as herself, and won the varsity race in a time of 19:49.8. It was the second straight race that Ava Bordner not only beat every other Class 3 runner but also every Class 4 runner.
Ava Bordner said she really loves the Kernstown Battlefield course in Winchester, where the Judges Classic is held each year.
On Sept. 14, Ava Bordner faced her toughest test yet as she ran in the varsity race in the Oatlands Invitational held in Leesburg. She finished 24th, going up against many Class 4, 5 and 6 runners, and finished in a time of 20:15. Ava Bordner had the top finish of any Class 3 runner.
"She had some fierce competition there," Misty Bordner said of Ava's performance in the Oatlands Invitational. "It was good for her to be able to see what exists out there for her to work towards. So I think she has some new goals that she set for herself. So I'm excited for her to pursue them and go after them."
Ava Bordner said that one of her biggest goals is to get her personal record time under 19 minutes and the other big goal is to help the team become as successful as possible.
The Hawks have been without Wilkins, who has made Class 3 all-state (top 15) two years in a row, this season due to injury. Misty Bordner said that Wilkins suffered a hip injury in the preseason and is also dealing with a foot injury. Misty Bordner said she's hopeful that Wilkins will be back at some point this season to finish out her stellar cross country career.
Ava Bordner said that Wilkins has been a huge influence on her.
"She means a lot to me," Ava Bordner said. "She's always pushing me and always so encouraging to me, and I love her so much. I'll be sad when she goes."
Ava Bordner said that one thing she has learned from Wilkins is how important practice is. Ava Bordner said whether in practice or during a race her main motivation is just to keep pushing herself to keep getting better.
Misty Bordner said her daughter's biggest strengths are her competitiveness and her work ethic. As a mother, Misty Bordner said that she loves seeing her daughter have the success she's having so far this season.
"I love to see her succeed in anything she does," Misty Bordner said. "I think that she's enjoying it. So that brings joy to my heart because I love running and it's good to see her enjoy it as much as I have."
Misty Bordner said she hasn't run into any issues so far with being a mother and coach at the same time. However, she said it is hard not to worry about Ava as she watches her run on the course.
"It's a little scary as a mom to see her out there," Misty Bordner said. "It makes me a little nervous for her. As a normal coach with the other kids I'm like 'let's go.' But with her I get a little bit scared because, I want them all to succeed, but as a mother I know how painful running is, and I don't love seeing her experience pain."
Misty Bordner does love seeing her daughter succeed and understands this is only the beginning of what could be a strong career.
"I want her to continue to enjoy it," Misty Bordner said. "I want her to continue to try to improve. I want her to know that she definitely has got a gift and I just want to help her to achieve the goals that she sets for herself. I know that she's capable of big things. I've seen what she's done in races and that's with baseline work. So once we get her to a different level I'm excited to see how she does, and I think she can be one of the best. I'm so proud. I'm very proud of her."