Sophia Nielsen, a senior member of the South Whidbey High School track team, has small goals.
Not small in amplitude, small in time and distance.
Before graduating this spring, she would like to set the school records in the 100-meter hurdles and long jump.
Her personal best in the hurdles is a mere 0.31 second off the school mark of 15.46.
“In the long jump, I am so close,” she said, holding her thumb and forefinger inches apart and putting them on the ground, as if in a landing pit.
“So close” is 4.75 inches from the record of 17’5.”
If Nielsen fulfills those goals, they will be just two more honors to stuff into her bulging bag of accomplishments.
In her three previous years of track, she earned six league titles, two district titles and a bi-district title; as well as earning first-team, all-Cascade Conference honors in four events.
Last year she qualified for state in four events, placing third in the triple jump (while competing in the event for only the sixth time), seventh in the 300 hurdles and eighth in the long jump. She would have placed in the 100 hurdles but clipped the final barrier.
She is the first in coach Mark Eager’s career to qualify in four state events.
“Sophie has always had enormous potential, but closing that potential-performance gap is what determines one’s legacy,” Eager said.
Nielsen also qualified for state in three events as a sophomore.
In 2016 and 2017, she scored more team points than any Falcon, including a whopping 180 last year, 52 more than the closest teammate.
She was named the most valuable member of the girls team last spring, and she was recognized by the Washington State Interscholastic Activities Association as the 1A female athlete of the week for March 20-24.
Nielsen, who is 5-feet-4 and 120 pounds, also noted that in her sophomore year she was named South Whidbey’s strongest girl for squatting 292 pounds.
In addition to track, Nielsen played volleyball for four years, basketball for two and spent the past two years on the cheer squad, helping it win the state academic award. (She has a 3.85 GPA.)
Nielsen began running track in the seventh grade and “fell in love with the hurdles.” In eighth grade she posted the country’s top middle school hurdle time.
Her drive for success, she said, really began after her freshman season.
“I knew if I really wanted to succeed, I needed to improve my mental game,” Nielsen said. “I needed to work out in the off season, work out in the weight room, practice good nutrition and hydrate,” she said.
“I could take six months off or I could get better.”
Her outstanding work ethic hasn’t robbed her for her enthusiasm for track.
Nielsen, according to Eager, is the “kid who seems to be having the most fun out there.”
He added that Nielsen is so happy to be at practice she can’t “restrain herself, usually by giving the coaches big hugs.”
“She is a great athlete who can switch from the goofy kid on the track to the extremely focused competitor who makes every repetition count,” he added.
Nielsen cares more about her teammates than individual accomplishments, Eager said, noting she dropped the 300 hurdles this year to run on the 4×100 team.
Nielsen has also become one of the team leaders.
“Sophie has really taken the underclassmen under her wings,” Eager said. “She calls herself their mom, and they do too.”
Nielsen has signed a letter of intent to compete for Azusa Pacific University.
After visiting 12 other schools with her mother Emily Czerwonka, she stopped by Azusa Pacific and knew “the second I stepped on campus” it was “the place to be.”
However, before setting off for California, she has another place or two to be — the South Whidbey High School record board and the top step of the state-meet podium.