East Xtra: Woodland Hills sprinter a title threat

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Desiree Garland runs like a champion.

At the Butler Invitational on April 12, Garland, a senior at Woodland Hills High School, won the 200- and 400-meter dashes, defeating 50-plus sprinters spread over 29 teams.

Interestingly, Garland had never competed in track and field before last year. Garland commented on all of the "little things" she was still learning about the sport, like getting out of the starting blocks.

"It was awkward at states last year," she recalled. "Everyone was using blocks to start the 400, and I'm just standing there."

Truth be told, there's nothing awkward about Garland's results. In her first track season, she took fifth place in the 400-meter dash (57.59 seconds) at the WPIAL championships and qualified for the PIAA meet. Garland's 400-meter time broke a 24-year-old school record.

Also during last year's track season, Garland claimed the school record in the high jump and she helped her team set a school record for the 1,600-meter relay.

"It's just the hard work she puts in," Woodland Hills track coach Paul Beard said. "She's [always] determined to get a school record or win a race. If she puts her heart into it, she will get it done."

Garland is well-known for being a leading scorer on the Woodland Hills girls basketball team. As basketball season gave way to track, Garland continued scoring for Woodland Hills in the 200- and 400-meter dashes, the high jump and with the 1,600-meter relay team.

Despite being relatively new to track and field, Garland has set high-level goals for this season.

"I would really like to get [my time] into the low 56s or high 55s in my 400-meter race, and to medal at states in the 400 and the high jump," she said.

Garland has a lean 5-foot-10 frame, and has been strength-training to achieve her track goals.

"I was told that getting your core strength up will help you run better," Garland said.

Likewise, she has added lots of abdominal crunches and weekend track workouts to her usual regimen.

Garland's weekend workouts have influenced many of her teammates to join her, but the positive influence is cyclical.

"Even though my teammates are younger, they teach me a lot of stuff each day," Garland said. "They're more mature in track than I am."

Since she joined the team as a junior, the Wolverines track team has taught her the "ins and outs" of the sport. These lessons have included topics such as baton exchange zones in relay races, lane usage rules and even the use of starting blocks.

"People help me every day with starting blocks," Garland said. "I wasn't using them last year and I just started using them for the 400."

Garland has enjoyed track so much that her "college scales" are currently tipped toward the track side, as opposed to continuing her basketball career.

"I'm leaning toward track because in the basketball world, I'm not big," Garland said.

Beard noted that for track, Garland has been recruited by Pitt, Akron and Seton Hill. He added that California University of Pennsylvania has also shown interest.

Garland's options for college may be exciting, but she considers her time at Woodland Hills to be unforgettable.

"I think the most memorable thing was when our [1,600-meter relay] team was trying to break the school record," Garland said.

She recalled the squad's anticipation each time it got a little closer to the two-year-old record.

"We finally broke it the last time we had a chance to run it," Garland said. "One of the girls who ran it with us was a foreign exchange student from Sweden."

Jessika Brunnland had, in fact, been at Woodland Hills and helped the team break the 1,600-meter relay record last year. Sisters Cheyenne and Dakotah Lewis had been on the squad as well.

Beard said Garland will be missed after she graduates this year.

"She's one of the captains of the team and she supports everybody," he said. "We have a very young team looking up to athletes such as Desiree Garland."

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