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Coach helps Seidel push toward greatness

Nov. 8, 2010

Reluctantly, Molly Seidel agreed to sign autographs for some students who had come to see the University Lake School phenom win her third cross-country state title in Wisconsin Rapids on Oct. 30.

It's not Seidel's nature to flaunt her talent, which allowed her to win that third title more than a minute ahead of second place in what's believed to be the fastest time ever recorded at The Ridges golf course (13:44). But it's easy to see why the kids adore her.

"She's like an icon at our school," said Brian Borkowski, who spearheaded the track and field program at St. Joan of Arc, a small school in Nashotah that welcomed Seidel -- a middle-school student at ULS -- to the team.

The word "icon" is particularly apropos. The Big Ten Network recently produced its "Icons" series, profiling the top 20 athletes in conference history, and rolling in at No. 19 was a University of Wisconsin cross-country runner and future Olympian named Suzy Favor-Hamilton, who ran to four cross-country titles at Stevens Point High School from 1982-85.

Seidel has drawn comparisons to Favor and will almost certainly join her in the discussion of greatest distance runner the state has ever produced. That's a daunting standard, but not one Seidel shies away from.

"When we're on the track, we eye up (Favor's) records all the time," Borkowski said. "I use her in comparison a lot with Molly. She's very fluent and very knowledgeable of everything (Favor) has done."

Borkowski coached Seidel during her middle-school days, then only in track during the first two years with the ULS varsity. Now, he's back counseling Seidel on the cross-country course as an assistant to head coach Mike Dolan, who guided Seidel to the first cross country state championships in ULS history.

She will almost certainly obtain a fourth Division 3 state title next fall, barring injury. It would make her the only Wisconsin runner to accomplish that feat besides Favor.

"She's such a good competitor, and she won't act like it's an easy thing (winning another state title)," Borkowski said. "We all know and the state knows that it would be, but she's not like that. She looks at people who finish a race a minute behind her and she's there congratulating them.

"She's one of the most mentally tough kids I've ever met. She's not a conceited kid, but she has confidence, and it shows. She rises up to the challenge."

Borkowski runs alongside his star pupil to give her the competition she won't receive in races. He knew by the time Seidel was a seventh-grader that he had something special on his hands.

"Back in seventh grade when we had our track banquet - at the time, she was a soccer player - I remember saying this is the real deal and telling her parents they might want to think about stopping soccer," he said.

Borkowski started the running program at St. Joan of Arc, serving roughly 100 kids in grades K-8, five years ago.

"We were new at St. Joan of Arc. I wanted (daughter) Abby (Reier) to be involved when she goes to high school, and that's how the track program really started," Borkowski said. "We were lucky enough to have Molly join the team and the rest is history."

Reier, a senior at Oconomowoc, recently completed her season as the No. 2 runner on the seventh-place team finisher in the Division 1 state meet, the best finish in school history. Others coming through the program included Arrowhead's Heather Bong, who took third place with two relays at last year's state track meet, and Catholic Memorial's Broc Kocour and Sam Tiahnybik, state champions with their teammates in last year's 4x400 meters.

Seidel, who also possesses track and field state titles in the Division 3 1,600 and 3,200 meters from her first two years at ULS, could conceivably finish with 12 career state titles, eclipsing the 11 recorded by Favor.

Borkowski said he spoke frequently with his former distance coach at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, two-time Olympian Lucian Rosa, to help him advise such a talented athlete.

"We talk about workouts … spiking the mileage, bringing it down," Borkowski said. "I do a lot of studying and think of her season as a whole when I plan for track. I don't just say, 'This week, we're going to do this' and forget what I did last week. It's a month, if not two months, of advance training, so I'm doing this properly and am focused on the goal, which is to be at the top of the state and set some records."

Letters have begun to pour in from interested colleges.

"Molly and I went to the Big Ten championships and the runners came through the 4k distance at about 13:37," Borkowski said. "Molly's best is 13:42. You put that into one race, Molly could have been a Big Ten champ if she's in at that level. I believe she's at that level already."

She next races at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships Midwest regional race at UW-Parkside over Thanksgiving weekend, competing against some of the top runners in the Midwest. Eventually, the prize will get even larger for Seidel.

"When she's a senior, that's when they'll be having Olympic trials," Borkowski said. "The goal for her is to get 4:36 in the mile. Right now, she's at 4:52. If she can hit that, she'll be in the Olympic trials - 18 (years old) and at the Olympic Trials would be pretty remarkable."

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