Beaver Area's Ruthe Neeley may only be a sophomore, but she already has earned plenty of respect as a varsity athlete.
Last May at the WPIAL track & field championships, Neeley helped Beaver Area win the 1,600-meter relay with a time of 4:01.94.
Individually, she placed fourth in the 400-meter dash and qualified for a PIAA berth with a time of 59.98 seconds. In the 100-meter dash, Neeley was sixth (12.96). Her sprinting skills also aided Beaver Area in achieving fifth place in the 400-meter relay.
Beaver Area's mile relay ended up taking third place at states, and Neeley placed fourth in the 400-meter dash (57.89). She recalled what it was like to be a freshman at the PIAA championships.
"I was really nervous to go," Neeley said. "I wasn't supposed to place -- I was ranked 16th. My dad had just told me to sprint the whole thing."
All-out sprinting for a quarter mile is easier said than done. But Neeley found a way to heed her father's advice.
"Right before states I did a bunch of really hard workouts to try and get in top shape ... I had to get more endurance. My lungs weren't where my legs were."
Neeley spent the period prior to the 2012 state championships doubling up on practices. After her team's practice, she practiced long-distance workouts on her own.
The benefits from the extra work stretched into the fall (Neeley plays soccer for the Bobcats) and winter, as Neeley is listed as a forward on Beaver Area's basketball team, which recently completed a 17-5 season.
"I think it's between track and basketball," Neeley responded when asked which was her favorite sport. "I've played basketball since I was, like, 4. I like it better, but I'm better at track."
Neeley is now using her discipline and conditioning in hopes of achieving even higher goals with the Beaver track team this spring.
"I've been working a lot with the distance team," she said. "I started with them this year to get in shape and get endurance."
Neeley explained that she would ramp up speed training as her endurance increased.
Her new goals for the year are to secure school records in the 200-meter dash and the 800-meter run. Additionally, she aims to help Beaver Area's 400-meter relay squad qualify for the state meet.
Neeley has, however, retained her goal of winning a WPIAL title in the 400-meter run. She noted that the 200-meter dash is a new addition on her events list this year.
To train for events ranging from 100 to 800 meters, Neeley works with a diverse coaching staff. She works with Beaver coach Steve Goldcamp on distance, coach Jason Gallagher on sprints, and Mars' distance/cross country coach Dale Boring on specialized distance workouts.
"I train by different days," Neeley explained. "Mostly since the weather has been so bad, I can't go outside to sprint. Distance -- we'll go outside, so I've been going a lot with them just to make sure I'm in shape."
As the weather improves, Neeley will train two days per week with distance runners and three with sprinters.
In spite of the bad weather, Neeley has enjoyed the long distance training.
"[On April 5], two members of the distance team and I went on a long-distance run and found a beaver dam in the woods," she said. "One of the boys was, like, building bridges so that we could walk across it."
Neeley added that other favorite runs include one on Dutch Ridge, where Goldcamp and the athletes overlook the entire town of Beaver.
Overall, the camaraderie of the runners stands out for Neeley.
"When somebody's having a bad day, we make them keep going with us even through it hurts," Neeley said. "It's definitely just doing hard workouts together [that keeps bringing us together]."hsother