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Coaches see Olympic potential for Sachem East’s Lauren Harris

Sachem East's Lauren Harris running in the NYSPHSAA

Sachem East's Lauren Harris running in the NYSPHSAA 1,500-meter walk on March 5, 2016. Credit: THOMAS LA BARBERA

Nothing could impede Lauren Harris’ meteoric rise to the top during last winter’s track and field campaign. The Sachem East junior could have capped off her winning ways following a first-place finish in the one-mile walk at the New York State Championships.

But after Harris earned a spot in the New Balance Indoor Nationals, she provided further validation of her top-notch talent by breaking a national record with a time of 6 minutes, 57.36 seconds.

Harris’ display was also the first sub-7:00 indoor performance in the meet’s history.

“It was a really exciting season for me,” Harris said. “I was real ly happy with how everything went.”

Yet, with a new season now upon her, Harris, now a senior, yearns for repeated success.

“I was happy. But I’m not content, though. I’m going to use last season as motivation for this year.”

Harris credited a great portion of her success to Sachem East coach Dan Shaub, who referred to her as “a once in a generation student-athlete.”

However, Harris also acknowledged the profound impact of another mentor.

One with elite racewalking experience, in fact.

In late 2013, Harris began training under assistant coach Joe Coffey’s wife, who happens to be two-time Olympian and Sachem High School graduate Maria Michta-Coffey. Michta-Coffey competed for the United States in the 20-kilometer walk at the Rio Olympic Games last summer.

With a 22nd-place finish, Michta-Coffey was the highest-placing American in the event.

Michta-Coffey assumed a volunteer coaching position with the Flaming Arrows in 2009. She recalled a humorous story of how she first learned of Harris.

“I was told there was this freshman who was on cross country who always left practice for cheerleading,” Michta-Coffey said. “When I first saw her [on the track], I thought she had a lot of potential and natural ability. So I really wanted to work with her.”

Michta-Coffey introduced Harris and her teammates to the walk. Three years later, Harris earned recognition as both a New York State and national champion.

“She really matured over that first season,” Michta-Coffey said. “She’s so naturally good, but because of the drive and effort she puts in, I think she’s really tapped into that full potential.”

Harris understands just how valuable it is having an Olympian as a coach.

“It’s really great,” Harris said. “She knows so many things that we wouldn’t know if it weren’t for her.

“She helps us with our form. She’s so experienced and gives our coaches ideas for workouts. Not everyone can say they have an Olympian working with them.”

After breaking the mile walk record at last winter’s New Balance Indoor Nationals, Harris desires a similar result following this season’s conclusion.

“I just want to lower my times and improve my records.”

With that sort of confidence and supreme talent, Michta-Coffey believes Harris has the potential to rise all the way to the Olympic level.

“Absolutely,” Michta-Coffey said. “I think she has the talent, for sure. I think she’s geared for the long distances, and we’re only seeing her early potential there.

“Once she masters that 10k distance, I think she could transition to that Olympic 20k distance after college.”

Shaub agreed: “If it is something she decides to pursue, she can achieve it, without question.”

Harris’ thoughts?

“It’s in the back of my head,” she said. “But right now, I just want to focus on high school and what I’m doing here.”

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