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High school cross country prodigy Hannah Vroon is an ‘aerobic freak’

(Courtesy of Amy Stevens)

JAMES ISLAND, S.C. — Hannah Vroon found herself in an unfamiliar position during last spring’s South Caroline state qualifying track and field meet. She was in second place with a couple of laps to go in the 3,200-meter race.

Vroon, a ninth grader at the time, had been among the state’s top distance runners all season. But before the race, James Island Charter High School coach Joe Eshelman had told his star runner to take it easy and not worry about winning. He wanted her to focus only on qualifying for the state meet.

“She was doing everything that I’d asked her to do, everything we talked about pre-race, but I could tell being in second place was killing her,” Eshelman said. “We didn’t want her to push it too hard and not be fresh for the state meet.”

With about 600 meters to go, Eshelman relented and permitted Vroon to go for the victory.

“She got this huge smile on her face,” Eshelman said, “and then just takes off.”

The following week, Vroon captured state titles in the 1,600 -and 3,200-meters and helped lead James Island to the Class AAAA state title. Vroon’s winning 1,600-meter time of 4 minutes, 58 seconds was the fastest by any girl in South Carolina last season and was just three seconds off the state record.

As a sophomore this past fall, Vroon won her second straight individual cross country title, running the state’s fastest time of 18:15 for the 3.1-mile course to lead the Trojans to back-to-back team titles, and in January she was named Gatorade South Carolina Girls Cross Country Player of the Year. Now, she has her sights set on winning more titles and awards during the spring track and field season, which began this month.

“Hannah is kind of an aerobic freak,” James Island cross country coach David Lee said. “She’s the strongest aerobic runner we’ve had in our program, boy or girl. She can really crank out a pace, even on some of her mileage runs. She’s ahead of a lot of our boys.”

Long before she was winning state championships on the track and in cross country, Vroon was an aspiring ballet dancer. At the age of 6, Vroon started taking ballet lessons and fell in love with dancing.

“I got totally hooked on ballet,” Vroon said. “I loved practicing, memorizing the moves and steps and being out there with my friends.”

After six years of ballet lessons and recitals, Vroon traded in her tutu for a pair of soccer cleats and made the area’s elite travel team as a standout midfielder. But the family sport was calling. Vroon’s aunts and uncles were avid runners, and in seventh grade she tried out for — and made — the high school cross country team.

“Hannah caught our eye almost immediately,” Lee said. “You could tell she was special.”

In her first race, she finished first among her teammates, including juniors and seniors. It was then that Vroon figured she might have a future in the sport. Later that season, she finished eighth in the state country championships.

“Her discipline is insane for a girl her age,” Eshelman said. “She’s really hard on herself when she’s had a bad race or a bad day. What we’ve tried to do is let her know that there are going to be bad days. Learn from those and come out stronger the next time.”

One of those bad days came in last December’s Eastbay Cross Country qualifying races in Charlotte, N.C. Coming off a state title just two weeks prior, Vroon finished 28th in a time of 18:05.

“I had been in New York all week, and it took us like 12 hours to drive down to Charlotte,” Vroon said. “It was cold during training that week up in New York, and I didn’t have the right mindset. I hit my time in the first mile and then just fell apart from there.”

Vroon said she’s using that performance as motivation during this spring’s track and field season and beyond. Lee and Eshelman, for what it’s worth, are convinced Vroon can run at the college level.

“We believe in quality over quantity,” Lee said. “We don’t want to destroy her legs in high school. She runs about 25 to 30 miles a week, so if she gets into a program and they can increase her miles, I think she can have a really good college career.”

Andrew Miller has covered high school sports since 1982. Before joining The Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier in 1989, he graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in journalism.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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