Junior Hailey Connery runs up the ranks of cross country

Maxanne Anderson

Preparing to start, Connery and her teammates competed at Indian Valley Campus for their long-anticipated first race of the 2020-2021 school year.
(Photo by Keely Ganong)

After an eight-month preseason full of early morning practices, weekend runs and team bonding, the girls’ cross country team is finally hitting the ground running, having competed in four meets so far. In their most recent meet against San Rafael at the 5 kilometer Indian Valley Campus (IVC) course, junior and co-captain Hailey Connery crossed the finish line in first place, her third such finish of the season.

Despite her impressive times, Connery has not been part of the cross country team for long. During her freshman year, Connery attended Marin Catholic High School while playing volleyball and running track. Upon transferring to Redwood her sophomore year, she decided to join the cross country team.

“I did club volleyball for probably three years or so, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t feel like it was for me. I felt like I was just doing it to play a sport,” Connery said. “Once I transferred, I already had the idea that I was going to give up volleyball, and I needed another sport. I had cross country in mind because I was already running track and field, and I was like, ‘Why not?’”

At the beginning of her sophomore season, Connery was far from being the top runner she is today. Throughout the season, however, she made considerable improvements, from being ranked 12 to placing sixth in races. When the pandemic hit in March, Connery found herself with a lot of time on her hands, so she ran nearly every day, continuing to grow faster.  

“I realized the importance of mobility work, weight training and stretching,” Connery said. “I improved a lot through [these techniques]. Even though I wasn’t racing, I felt in a lot better shape than I was beforehand.”

However, once the team’s preseason started in July, she discovered that solo training could only get her so far. 

“I realized that working with my team is so important because I was definitely in better shape, but I don’t know how my mental headspace was when I was running on my own,” Connery said. “It’s so important to work off of your teammates and to run with each other. That’s the only way you can really get faster.”

Leading the Indian Valley Campus Race, Connery and Janku finished first and second respectively. (Photo by Keely Ganong)

Most of the time, Connery runs with her co-captain and close friend, junior Helena Janku. Janku is blown away by the improvement Connery has made in the past year. 

“To watch her just absolutely kill it for the past few months and watching [her] determination and love for running grow, it’s been really cool,” Janku said. “Sometimes I catch myself [saying], ‘Oh my God, Hailey is so bad a**.’” 

Cross country coach Nicole Graydon is also impressed with Connery’s recent performances, citing the 2:40 improvement she made at IVC over the course of last season. 

“Her improvement going from somebody who was barely on the radar to somebody who is now one of the top runners [is important],” Graydon said. “There’s no ego, there’s no boasting. It’s all ‘Okay, now how can we work harder?’”

In the first race of the season against High School 1327, Connery finished first with a time of 18 minutes and 29 seconds. Janku, who placed second, spent most of the event neck-in-neck with her. 

“When you’re running next to someone, you try and figure out … ‘Am I going to be able to beat [them]?’ I for sure thought I had it in me this time. I was gunning for her. I was like, ‘I’m going to get Hailey.’ And she just completely blew past me in the last hundred meters,” Janku said. “I wouldn’t say [people] underestimate her, but it’s easy to look past that extra kind of ‘oomph’ she has. She’ll totally rip you to shreds in the last second when you’re not expecting it.”


Smiling after a meet against Tamalpais High School, the girls performed well in the 2019 season. (Image Courtesy of Hailey Connery)

ery’s determination is contrasted by her lighthearted personality. According to Janku, she is a funny and encouraging teammate, qualities made clear through her leadership. To keep the team’s spirits up, they hold themed practice days, where the entire team arrives dressed in silly running outfits such as onesies or dresses. Graydon has noticed the positive effect that Connery’s goofy attitude has on all the girls. 

“[Connery] shows up to practice with her shoes half on and her hair is everywhere and she’s kind of a mess, [but] by the time we get to the workout, she is in it 100 percent,” Graydon said. 

Recently, Connery started looking into running at the collegiate level, talking to coaches and former teammates about the recruitment process. In the meantime, she is focusing on continuing to grow herself and her team. 

“Every single race is a learning experience and [it is important to] make sure you aren’t hard on yourself,” Connery said. “It’s not necessarily about what place you get. It’s more about how you felt and what you want to improve on next time.”