Sophia McInnes, Bayport-Blue Point sophomore, runs during cross country practice...

Sophia McInnes, Bayport-Blue Point sophomore, runs during cross country practice on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. Credit: James Escher

If someone had told Sophia McInnes last fall that, a year from now, she would be staring down a hill instead of an opposing goalkeeper, she would have laughed it off. It would have been such a weird prediction. The lifelong soccer player loved the game and had zero designs on leaving it.

But here she is.

One year later, McInnes is one of the best cross country runners in the state and quite happy about it all.

The Bayport-Blue Point sophomore, following an impressive freshman track and field season, thought the move to cross country in the fall would only improve her prospects on the indoor and outdoor oval. More running-specific training would surely pay dividends in the winter and spring. 

“In the middle of the spring season, I began thinking that it might be time to give up soccer, for the school at least, and maybe try cross country,” McInnes said. “I wasn’t even that upset about leaving the school soccer team. I was more upset about leaving the [club] team that I played on outside of school. I’ve been with that team a few years now and I was upset about leaving it because then that would mean that I don’t have any more soccer in my life.”

McInnes decided that if she was going to devote her fall to the hills, she had to go all the way. Time, she thought, would not allow for both a cross country season and a club soccer run, not to mention her cross country times being hindered by a potential soccer injury.

“That was one of my biggest fears,” McInnes said.

With soccer in the rearview mirror, she spent the summer training with her teammates and attended cross country camp to try to get up to speed on distance running.

Now, others are chasing her. As of Wednesday night, McInnes was ranked eighth in the state, according to speed ratings found on tullyrunners.com. Only Floyd’s Zariel Macchia (seventh) was ranked higher among Long Island runners and only Cornwall standout Karrie Baloga was ranked higher in Class B.

McInnes won the varsity C race at the prestigious Manhattan College Invitational earlier this month, running the 4-kilometer course at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx in 14 minutes, 50.2 seconds. She ran 19:37.2 on the 5k Bowdoin Park Course in Wappingers Falls — site of next month’s state Federation championship — and ran 18:42.8 at Queensbury High School in September, the third fastest 5k time on Long Island as of Wednesday, according to milesplit.com.

The success — most notably the quickness of it — was unexpected. 

“It’s definitely a shock,” she said.

While her love of soccer might never go away completely, McInnes  doesn’t regret her decision to leave — not for a moment.

“I’m really happy,” she said. “I feel like if I kept with soccer, maybe I would have lost some of my speed and I wouldn’t be where I am right now, and I wouldn’t be improving as much.”

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