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Standout sprinter transfers after two years at Lane Community College

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Allie Church (center), who graduated from Wilsonville High School in 2011, will complete her collegiate running career at Oregon State after spending the last two seasons at Lane Community College in Eugene.Over the last two years, Oregon State University has taken dramatic steps to rejuvenate its once-proud track and field program.

Fundraising efforts have brought to fruition a new nine-lane track near the intersection of Highway 34 and 15th Street in Corvallis. An artificial-turf infield with the school’s orange logo rests in the middle of the reddish oval.

Light fixtures are already in place. A grandstand, entry plaza, scoreboard and press box are expected to follow as part of the multi-phase project.

In a way, the Beavers have been preparing for the arrival of Allie Church.

The Wilsonville High School alumna, who spent the last two years running at Lane Community College in Eugene, is transferring to Oregon State to complete the second half of her collegiate career as something of a reviver.

“I will actually be their first sprinter in a really long time,” she said. It’s very exciting.

“I didn’t know I’d be able to run there, and it ended up happening. I feel really lucky getting to run and be one of the first people they take on. I consider that an honor.”

A 'mental shift'

Over the last two years, Church has worked hard to develop her skills as a sprinter.

After graduating from Wilsonville in 2011, she quickly became a standout member of the women’s track and field team at Lane Community College in Eugene.

As a freshman, she won regional titles in the 100- and 200-meter dashes with times of 12.41 seconds and 25.27 seconds, respectively. She then placed second in each event at the NWAACC championships in Spokane, Wash.

But the progress Church made wasn’t due to training or conditioning alone.

“A lot of it has been mental,” she said. “I know I’m stronger, but most of the change is a mental shift, just moving from amateur to more professional. You’re more focused at meets, and you know what needs to be done.

“Just balancing working out, having a life and living on your own, you have to really want it. It’s really demanding. You’re trying to pay bills, go to school and do everything for yourself. I’m glad I had that transition to see what that’s like.”

Perhaps accustomed to the life of a collegiate athlete, Church was even more successful this past spring. She defended her regional championships with a 12.02 in the 100 and a 24.88 in the 200, and she went on to capture first-place finishes in both races at the NWAACC finals by clocking a 12.21 in the 100 and a school-record 24.81 in the 200.

Church also ran the second leg on Lane’s victorious 400-meter relay squad and anchored the title-winning 1,600-meter relay team. She was named the outstanding athlete of the meet on the women’s side.

The honor marked a triumphant finale for Church, who dealt with pneumonia earlier in the year. She said Titans head coach Grady O’Connor and assistant sprints coach Travis Thompson — a Class 3A state champion in the 400and Lane alumnus who became an All-America honoree and team captain with the Oregon Ducks — played key roles as mentors and motivators.

“The coaches are really great, no-nonsense people, and they were athletes themselves,” Church said. “They’re not afraid to push you, which is something that’s important. They wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They said, ‘You can do it. You can make it happen.’ That really made me tougher and hard-working and made me realize what it takes. You really need to be dedicated to it.”

'Never really planned it'

Encouragement from coaches nudged Church onto the track in the first place.

She had always been quick, but she didn’t run in an organized setting until she was persuaded at Wood Middle School.

“I did it for one year, and my coach said, ‘You need to keep running,’ but I didn’t really care about it,” she said. “Then, in high school, I wanted to do it. I just got into it and kept working and eventually just fell into it. I never really planned it. Eventually, it became something I really like.”

Church began showcasing her potential at Wilsonville, where she still holds school records in the 100 and 200 with times of 12.16 and 24.91, respectively. She is ranked at No. 3 on the all-time program charts in the 400 with a 59.14.

Church also made three appearances at the OSAA state championships during her phenomenal prep career.

Running with then-teammates Nicole Gearhart, Lizzy Bullock and Kelsey Starr as a sophomore, she set a school record while winning a Class 5A title in the 400-meter relay with a time of 48.76.

As a junior, Church placed fifth in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and also was a member of the 400 relay squad that took third.

In Church’s final year with the Wildcats, everything seemingly came together for her. She won state titles in the 100 and 200, also leading the 400 and 1,600 relay squads to OSAA appearances. She joined Morgan Oswald, Taryn Rawlings and Alyssa Clark to set a program best in the long relay with a 4:01.97.

Church has done cross-country and middle-distance running in the past, but she enjoys more the thrills of the sprints.

“I just prefer putting all your energy into one little burst,” she said. “It’s fun. And it’s what I’m good at.”

Program on the rise

It seems Church will have the opportunity to continue improving at Oregon State, which is currently amid a significant rebirth.

In 1988, the school’s track and field and cross-country teams were cut. And although the Beavers returned with a women’s distance contingent in 2004, they have not been able to support a full roster in recent years.

“I really wanted to go there, but initially they didn’t know if they would have the resources to take me on as an athlete,” Church said.     

Thanks to the efforts of coach Kelly Sullivan and others, though, revitalization of Oregon State’s track program hasn’t lost momentum. That much was clear to Church on a recent visit.

“Their coaching staff was really great,” she said. “They seemed like really friendly people. They were really personable, and I got along with them really well.”

Church said she will not receive a scholarship this coming year, but she hopes to achieve that goal as a senior in 2014-15.

The transition will also work out academically for Church, who plans to study exercise science and possibly pursue a career as a personal trainer. She has received words of approval from O’Connor, the Lane coach, who earned a master’s degree at OSU in 1998.

Excited to conquer “new territory” in Corvallis, Church lives right across from the unfinished Whyte Track and Field Center. And if the noises of construction crews drift into her apartment, she probably won’t complain.

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