Saylah Barserian is a little girl with a big assignment today -- how to successfully defend her Division I title and beat Macy Bricks in the Central Section Cross Country Championships at Woodward Park.
"Yes, it's become a very good duel and it should be a very good race," said Barserian, a Clovis senior, who stands 5 feet 2 and 90 pounds. "We go back and forth."
In the 2008 section D-I championships at Woodward's 3.1-mile course, Barserian (18:27) and Buchanan's Bricks (18:35) placed 1-2.
Six months later, in the section track and field championships, Bricks (4:57.70) and Barserian (4:59.39) went 1-2 in the 1,600 meters. Bricks (10:53.27) and Barserian (11:04.17) also went 2-6 in the 3,200.
In this season's Clovis Invitational at Woodward a month ago, Barserian timed 17:51 and Bricks 17:56 while competing in different races.
Then last Friday in the Tri-River Athletic Conference Championships at Woodward, Bricks (17:50) and Barserian (17:57) finished 1-2.
"I don't know her that well," Barserian said of Bricks, a Buchanan junior who has been sick this week but is expected to run, "but I do know she's a tough competitor."
Barserian, The Bee's 2008 Runner of the Year in girls cross country, arrived at Clovis in 2006 as a 5-1, 82-pound freshman and not even among the Cougars' top seven.
"But she did have ability," Clovis coach Rob Brenner said.
Barserian burst upon the scene as a sophomore, steadied as a junior and, now, as a senior, ranks among the top 20 runners in the state, if not the top 10.
And that's her goal, to place among the top 10, in the state finals at Woodward on Nov. 28.
That appears well within reach, given her 17:36 over a 2.9-mile course Oct. 24 in the Mt. Sac Invitational -- one of the nation's premier high school cross country events. Her time ranked seventh among girls in all divisions.
"We're very pleased with her; she's made big progression," Brenner said. "And she's running with a lot more confidence. That's huge because before it happens you have to believe it's going to happen."
Barserian is supported by a successful family tree.
Her mother, competing as Lori Guinn, was a section leading hurdler at Clovis High in the 1970s. And Barserian's half sister, Lindsay Hall, was a gold medalist in the 300 low hurdles in 1999.
Now Barserian will attempt to do one better and repeat her gold in today's D-I girls final, one of 10 boys and girls races.
"I've been really strong," she said, "so I'm really excited for the Valley."