Elaina Balouris and Margo Malone go to colleges more than 500 miles apart, compete in different conferences and until very recently, had never even faced off against one another in a collegiate race.
But when the two step up to the line for the start of the 10,000-meter run tonight at the NCAA Track and Field National Championships in Eugene, Ore., they will do so as unofficial teammates.
Balouris, a senior at the College of William and Mary and a graduate of Hampton High School, and Malone, a sophomore at Syracuse University and a graduate of North Hills High, spent a majority of their high school careers dominating track and field and cross country meets in the WPIAL. And while they were raking in honors, they also became close friends.
"It's funny, because I'm usually pretty competitive when it comes to racing, but with her, we have always just been friends," Balouris said.
But when the two headed their separate ways for college, it seemed unlikely that they would meet up again on the track. Rather than lose contact, however, they continued to talk and even train together in the offseason.
"In high school we raced against each other a lot, but we actually also trained together," Malone said. "We'd meet for long runs on the weekends or work out together.
"After [Balouris] graduated and went to William and Mary, we would still work out together in the summer time."
During her time at William and Mary, Balouris has become one of the most accomplished athletes in the history of the school's track program. She holds the school record in the indoor 3,000 meters, the second-fastest all-time marks in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters and has been named the Colonial Athletic Association Athlete of the Year three times.
Her second-place finish in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA East preliminary May 29 in Jacksonville, Fla., also qualified Balouris for her third-consecutive trip to the national championships.
Malone already has notched a major accomplishment of her own during her short career at Syracuse, posting a school record in the 10,000 meters at the Atlantic Coast Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships on April 17.
That performance set up a meeting with Balouris at the East preliminary, the only race between the two so far in their collegiate careers.
Malone finished the race in eighth with a time of 33:55.56 -- good enough to guarantee a spot in Eugene -- six spots back of Balouris who ran a lifetime best of 33:13.54.
"The first time that we raced together [collegiately] in track was this past regionals," Malone said. "It was so cool to line up with her; she is just so experienced and has great little tips and motivations for me. She gave me a huge hug at the end, too."
Balouris heads into the final race of her collegiate career as the No. 2 seed overall, while Malone enters her first championship race as the No. 8 seed. Both have said that they hope to come out of the meet with All-American honors, which are given to the top eight finishers.
While there are never any guarantees in track and field, both have a real shot at making the podium, as Balouris has run the ninth-fastest time this season of the women entered in the finals and Malone the 10th.
"All of us, our goal would be All-American, but more importantly just enjoy the experience and take it all in," Malone said.
Although Balouris and Malone may ultimately end up battling for the last one or two spots on the All-America list, there is no bitter rivalry between them. In fact, that is just the way it has always been for them.
"We just want each other to do well," Balouris said. "It's like I am going to have an extra teammate with me."
Alex Nieves: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @alexdnieves5