Salute to Seniors: Laura Baeyens of Watchung Hills

Salute To Seniors is a medium for "senior farewells". We invited the 2020 seniors to tell their stories from the past four years. With the loss of the spring season we hope we can offer a chance to reflect on all the great moments this class did get to experience. Thank you to everyone who submitted, we are closing up the series and still have a few in queue to be posted. 

Laura Baeyens

Watchung Hills Reg HS

Who would you consider your biggest competition over the past four years? 

I consider Manon Stephen, from Ridge High School, to be my greatest competition over the last four years. Since our schools are so close together (probably around 15 minutes), we end up at a lot of the same races. Every race between us was a toss up, a battle of wills, since we both knew that we were very similar in ability. I could best her one weekend at Sectionals in the 3200m while she beat me in the 1600m and then next weekend, it would switch.

What was your personal greatest accomplishment?

Winning North II Group 4 Sectionals as a team was probably my team's greatest accomplishment my junior year in 2019. Personally, I won the 3200m that weekend, and also raced in the 1600m and 800m. I am most proud of my pacing in that race, since I stayed right behind the front two runners from North Hunterdon until the last 400m where I kicked. I think my split for the last lap of 8 was around a 73. Crossing the finish line in 10:39 to beat girls which I had finished behind for the past 3 years was an unreal feeling.

If you are writing a letter to your younger freshman self, what are some items that might include?

Don't be as afraid before each race. It never is as bad as you think it will be.

Actually do the cool down after each race! Your legs will thank you the next day.

Don't try to break any records from the start. Starting from behind and working your way up is as good of a tactic as any.

Take every hill in practice seriously. You will reap the benefits during your races.

Easy runs and slow miles are just as important as any speed work or workouts you will do. Even though it does not seem like it, you will become stronger in different ways than you would with just speed training.

What will you miss the most?

I'm going to miss the camaraderie between New Jersey athletes the most, whether or not we are teammates. I remember so many races not only hoping for the best for myself but also for some of my competitors. Whether it was summer training runs together, attending running camps or just talking before and after races, I have forged a bond with many of those I run against. I wish those graduating with me in this special time the best, and hope to run against them again soon. I can't wait to see what the younger runners do after we leave!

Name the top New Jersey XCTF moment(s) you have witnessed. 

I still remember so vividly when I found out Katelyn Tuohy would be running Shore Coaches at Holmdel my junior year. The excitement quickly changed to dread when I found out that she would not just be at the meet but in my race. From the beginning, it was obvious that she was on a completely different level than the rest of the field, sprinting up the hill from the start. The rest of the field just did their best to hang on but the gap only grew. I did not see her finish but the excitement in the air was palpable. I got a handshake from her and a picture at the end for being in the top ten which made all the stress worth it.

Watchung Hill's first ever Group 4 titles my sophomore year (2018) was also quite memorable. Between me and two other athletes on my team, Mahogany Jenkins and Portia Jones, we were able to amass 36 points in distance, sprints and jumps. It was such a surprise that we had already left the meet when our win was announced. I only found out after getting home and showering when I received a phone call from someone still at the meet. Our coach ended up returning and claiming the trophy on our behalf. To say it was memorable was an understatement. 

What are your post-high school or college plans?

I will be continuing my academic and athletic careers at the University of Pennsylvania as a member of the cross country and track teams. I plan to study biochemistry in the Vagelos Molecular Life Sciences Scholars Program. I can't wait to see what the future brings. Go Quakers! 

Who would you like to say 'thank you' to?

I would like to say thank you to my coaches throughout the years, starting with Coach Theoclitus in middle school, who helped me realize my love of running, to Coach Porter and Coach LaChac who helped me grow in maturity and strength as a runner my senior year. I would also like to thank my family who were there with me at every morning practice and long run, either running or biking beside me, and at every race cheering me on. Without my parents and siblings pushing me to run at a young age, I never would have realized how important it would be to who I am as a person. I am ready for many more years of running together to come.