5.18 to Go

Runner Driven to be School’s Best Miler

Photo by Robert Campbell. LBHS junior Natasha Strickland, OC league champ in the mile and two-mile.

Last season at the Orange Country Championships, Natasha Strickland covered 3200 meters in 11:13.85, knocking more than three seconds off Wendy Peterson’s 23-year-old Laguna Beach High School record. Strickland has since gone on to break her new mark twice, most recently at the Arcadia Invitational earlier this month. The record now stands at 11:00.25. “I really wanted to break 11,” she said with disappointment that only makes her more resolute.


With several meets remaining on the schedule and another full season to go, there’s no doubt the determined junior will bring her 3200 time into the 10s before her high school career ends. Until then, she has her sights set on an even older LBHS record, Cynthia Harryman’s 35-year-old mark of 5:04.04 in the 1600 meters. With a personal best of 5:09.21, which came earlier this month at the Trabuco Hills Invitational, Strickland has 5.18 to go.


She already holds this year’s fifth fastest division IV time in the 1600 and the third fastest time in the 3200. She has won back-to-back league championships in the 3200 and is defending champ in the 1600. And the way her times have been dropping this season, there is no reason to believe she won’t pull off another double victory at league finals on Thursday, May 5, at Costa Mesa High. What happens beyond that is anyone’s guess. “I think she’s definitely top three at [3200 meter CIF] finals,” said girls track coach Steve Lalim.


Lalim is as excited as Strickland about her prospect of breaking the school 1600 record. “That’s honestly what keeps me coaching,” he said of his opportunities to help an athlete achieve personal goals.


To help Strickland shed the five or so seconds needed to reach her goal, Lalim adjusted her workouts, adding more speed training. To that end, Strickland even took a stab at her first 800-meter race this season.


If history is a good gauge for the future, Strickland has an excellent shot at putting her name in the LBHS record books for a second time. Since winning the Orange Coast league championship in the 3200 as a freshman, she has carved a whopping 1:32 off her time. In the 1600, her time is down nearly half a minute over the same period.


Lalim’s guidance and training techniques have been key in helping Strickland achieve that kind of improvement in two short years. But it is her mother Carista, a marathon runner and one of Lalim’s assistants, who has shown her daughter what it takes to reach the next level. “My mom’s been a big inspiration to me,” said Strickland.


As a freshman, Strickland once said, “I feel like I have to try my best because my mom’s there.” Now her best comes from within. She eats right, does yoga and works out on her own away from practice. “I think that’s what sets her apart,” says Lalim. “She’s by far the best girl I’ve ever coached.”


Strickland’s hard work, dedication and revamped life style have set a new standard, both for her and her teammates. “She’s been a great role model,” said Lalim. “Everyday she shows what it takes to be successful.”


“I hope to be a good captain and leader to the team,” said the unassuming star, who devotes much of her spare time to helping others. Strickland is current vice president and future president of Assisteens Laguna Beach, a group sponsored by the Assistance League that helps local seniors and children in need. “It feels good to make an impression in their life,” she said.


While Strickland the person makes an impression on people in the community, Strickland the athlete is impressing recruiters, as letters from colleges across the country are beginning to turn up in her mailbox. But right now she is focused on turning four laps in under 5:04. “It’s going to take the right day and conditions,” said Lalim. “I know she can do it.”



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