Milton High junior Elise O’Leary can adapt to almost every situation on the track.
Her versatility has made the 16-year-old a key component on the girls’ indoor track team, said head coach Thomas Shaw.
“Elise is a diverse athlete when it comes to the sport of track,” said Shaw, in his fifth year in the job. “She can run the 300-meter race then run the two-mile. She jumps at the opportunity to participate in any event that we need her in. And whatever we put her in, she is always reliable to score points.”
Now in her third year on the indoor track team, O’Leary has compiled several impressive achievements this season. She set a personal best at the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 3 Championships Feb. 18 2:55.39 in the 1000 meters . She was, too, a member of the 4X200 relay team — along with senior Josie Cousineu, junor Alexis Daley , and sophomore Jayda Dillon — that broke the school’s record with a time of 1:47.54. The performances helped bring the school its third consecutive Division 3 state championship.
The squad was hoping to follow that success with a second consecutive win at the All-State meet Feb. 24, but it was probably not a realistic goal. Several members of last year’s team had graduated, and this year’s team was depleted at the state meet by other absences, including Bridget Mitchell, track athlete of the year on the Globe’s 2017 All-Scholastic team, who was laid low by the flu.
The predictable defeat proved precipitous: Of 53 teams competing, Milton finished 44th.
Still, O’Leary insists, the resounding loss wasn’t caused by an individualistic or otherwise failed approach.
“It’s always for the team win,” said O’Leary. “It’s great to perform well individually, but our goal every race is to get the most points possible to help achieve the team goal.”
As far as doing well herself, O’Leary said she needs to stay focused and relaxed before each meet.
“I know that I can’t work myself up,” she said. “I never try to hype myself up too much.”
That she has always loved track helps her maintain her balance, and it’s a love that runs in the family. O’Leary is a third-generation runner on the Milton High track and field team. Dudley O’Leary , her grandfather, was a sprinter for the program back in the 1950s, and is in the program’s hall of fame. Her parents, Walter and Tara, met while running for the school in the early ’80s. He was a sprinter, she a distance runner, and the two been together since their senior year. Neither stuck with running, though her mother ran for a year at the collegiate level.
Then there’s Collette, Elise’s 18-year-old sister. She ran for the Milton High team and is now doing the same as a first-year student at UMass Amherst, and she played a big role in urging Elise to run at the high school level.
“I was planning on playing soccer in the fall,” said O’Leary. “But my sister was on the cross country team at the time, and she told me how great of a time it is to be a part of the team. So I decided to focus on cross country, indoor and outdoor track all-year round. I do not regret that decision. Running track and cross country at Milton High has been the best time of my life.”
O’Leary has high hopes for the future. She wants to follow in her sister’s footsteps and run at the collegiate level after graduation.
But her primary focus is now on the near future. Her priorities are now set on preparing for the outdoor track and field season at Milton. She is easing up on workouts prior to the season, and focusing in on both adequate hydration and rest before the season starts.
“I need to get myself mentally prepared before I start training,” she said. “I need to take a time out from track for a week or so. Then I’m really going to focus on my running so I can have a strong season.”
Her older teammates recognize O’Leary’s skill and passion on and off the track.
Senior Genevieve O’Connolly, the team’s co-captain, said she is amazed how O’Leary can adjust to any race like her coach said.
“She can run any race,” said O’Connolly. “She can run short- and long-distance races with ease, and she is great under pressure. We always know that we’ll finish great when she is anchoring a relay.”
Fellow co-captain Josie Cousineau said she is impressed how calm and collected O’Leary is before meets.
“She really has no nerves,” said Cousineau. “She always has a bubbly personality and makes jokes before races. And she is such a fantastic runner. I can’t see imagine each season without her. She always brings her all.”Andrew Higginbottom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.