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She never stopped running
Jesuit's Annamarie Maag leaves an unequaled legacy of distance running success
BEAVERTON - In a state gifted with a long history of talented female distance runners, Annamarie Maag is running.
At Jesuit High School, where the Crusaders have won two straight Class 6A state track titles and nine consecutive big-school cross country crowns, Annamarie Maag is running.
And now, Maag is also the Valley Times' Female Athlete of the Year for the 2010-11 school year. Maag will share the award, given annually to the top graduating senior from the Beaverton Valley Times' coverage area, with fellow Crusader Elizabeth Brenner. The profile on Brenner, a star in volleyball, basketball andtrack, will appear in next week's edition of the Valley Times.
Maag won her share of the Athlete of the Year award on the strength of an incredible senior season that saw her excel again at what she does best - running. In her senior year, Maag - now 18 and preparing for a college career at Georgetown - claimed an Oregon-record third straight state cross country title, won a third straight team title in cross country, took second and third in her individual events at state track, and also won a second straight team title at the 6A track meet.
Despite all that, Maag wasn't a runner when she started at Jesuit. Though her older brothers - Michael, Peter and Patrick - all had considerable success in cross country and track at Jesuit, Annamarie spent her freshman season playing soccer and basketball.
'I still remember my first (cross country) race,' Maag said. 'I remember talking to my teammates and thinking that I wouldn't even finish.'
But finish she did, taking second in that race - the Wilsonville Night Meet back on Aug. 28 of 2008 - to teammate Noelle VanRysselberghe, and setting the stage for the best cross country career in Oregon high school history.
Indeed, over her three seasons as a Jesuit varsity runner, Maag was almost unbeatable. She won three straight Metro League championships - a notable feat in itself - and also added those three consecutive Class 6A state titles.
In doing so, she became just the second Oregon runner to win three big-school cross country state championships (Sunset's Eryn Forbes won in 1975, '76 and '78) and the first to win three big-school crowns at 5,000 meters.
'That ranks her among the best who've ever run,' said Jesuit cross country coach Tom Rothenberger. 'That three-year run of state titles is pretty unique.'
According to Rothenberger, the symbiosis of Maag's connection with her teammates and her amazing ability made for a devastating combination.
'I think she made a strong emotional connection with her (cross country) teammates every year,' Rothenberger said. 'And she has a tremendous anaerobic threshold. She would just power away from people at state.'
Indeed, Maag won by greater margins each year at state, taking her final individual title by 31 seconds back on Nov. 6 at Lane Community College.
'I remember that I was seeded first (as a sophomore) and I hated it,' Maag recalled. 'But the nerves decreased every year. It got easier mentally. I knew what I was capable of.'
Despite all her success in cross country, Maag was never nearly as impressed with her achievements as others seemed to be.
'I don't like to focus on (records). That's one more worry that I don't need.' she said. 'And when I do something, I never think it's as cool as everyone else does.'
Staying on Track
While Maag left little doubt about her place in Oregon cross country history, she was also incredibly effective as part of the Crusaders' track and field team.
After breaking through with a third-place finish in the 1500 meters as a freshman, Maag established herself as one of Oregon's best in 2009. There, at the Class 6A state meet, Maag stepped forward to win both the 1500 and 3000 meters titles and add to her fast-growing distance-running résumé.
While she would never achieve that notable double again - she won the 3000 and took second in the 1500 as a junior, then finished second in the 3000 and third in the 1500 as a senior - Maag left satisfied with her accomplishments and legacy nonetheless.
'Everything happens for a reason,' she said. 'Everyone needs to get beat sometime to bring them back to reality. I realized that I can lose and it's still OK.'
'She's been (on top) for so long, it's difficult to keep getting up for the same events,' said Jesuit girls track coach Brian Valley.
Any disappointment she may have had in her individual performance, however, was tempered by the fact that her team won that second straight 6A championship.
'If I'd won individually, I'd have been excited, but to win as a team, I had 30 or 40 people around me who were excited,' Maag said.
'She's very much a team-oriented athlete,' Rothenberger said. 'For as much individual success as she's had, she does it for her team.'
That love of, and dedication to, her team, came shining through to Maag's coaches, and was one of the things they said they'd remember most about her.
'She had a great rapport with all her teammates,' Valley said. 'She was always encouraging, always helping out the younger kids. She's just a tremendous person.'
She's really a team-oriented athlete,' Rothenberger added. 'She's unique for someone at her level.'
And that, as much as anything may be Maag's true legacy at Jesuit.