Riddle: When does a distance runner become a sprinter?
Answer: When she's in the water.
Seriously, Upper St. Clair senior Betsey Erlanger is one of the WPIAL's finest in the sport of cross country. She placed 31st at the PIAA state meet in November. But by winter she swims a fast 50-yard freestyle race for Upper St. Clair's swimming team. It's a combination of sports many wouldn't expect.
Upper St. Clair coach Dave Schraven has the riddle figured out.
"[Erlanger] is a great kicker because her legs are so strong," he explained. "In swimming, the legs are associated with sprinting."
At the 2012 WPIAL championships, Erlanger used her leg strength to qualify for the state meet. The race was Event 7 and energy was high. Erlanger was seeded in a fast heat.
"I missed my first turn and had to catch back up to everyone," she recalled. "I was like, 'Oh, shoot -- what am I going to do now?'"
The slip may have been the very motivation Erlanger needed for her acceleration to kick in. Having to go all out to make up time, Erlanger placed ninth with a time of 24.63 seconds. To this day, she doesn't feel she would have gone as fast in her second 25 if she hadn't missed the turn.
"My time still qualified me for states as an individual," Erlanger said. "It was awesome to be able to pick myself back up."
Schraven is in his first year working with Erlanger -- he coached at Mt. Lebanon prior to this year. He likes to use Erlanger's running skills, however, to push her limits good-naturedly in swimming.
"I joke with her, like, 'Hey -- want to do the 500 in swimming?'" he said.
Schraven added that Erlanger tells him that she prefers to sprint.
Getting serious once again, Schraven also prefers for Erlanger to sprint for the swim team.
"She's good at sprinting," he said. "She's got top acceleration as a sprinter and this year she's swimming freestyle on our top medley relay. She also swims the sprint [200-yard] freestyle relay."
Schraven summarized by saying that Erlanger's 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle abilities make her a great contributor in a variety of acceleration-driven races.
"I know that running is kind of her 'bread-and-butter' sport," Schraven said.
He noted that Erlanger trains for running outside of the school year and does not participate on any swim clubs.
"But during the season she's 100 percent swimming," he emphasized.
Erlanger had interesting things to say about the ways that running and swimming both hinder as well as complement each other.
"I like breathing," she said. "I'm a runner."
The natural aerobic tendencies of a runner don't lend themselves well to an underwater environment, and Erlanger has learned to combat them.
"It's hard during practice, so we have underwater sets where we're not allowed to breathe," she said.
She added that she has particular points at which she allows herself to breathe during her events. This allows her to limit her breaths instead of gulping air (like most runners would if placed in water).
As far as college goes, it's all about the running for Erlanger.
"I haven't committed anywhere yet -- my signing day is Feb. 6. But I'm looking at running in college."
Erlanger has yet to narrow down the list of her schools of interest, but she did say that the University of Delaware is among them.
Before college can happen, Erlanger is committed 100 percent to Upper St. Clair and her teammates. With the swimming team, it's all about qualifying for the trip to the PIAA championships. Six or seven from the girls' team typically make the trip, and it's a swimming team experience Erlanger would enjoy for her senior year.
"It's really cool how close our team is," she said.