Nothing finer: Battle Mountain cross-country’s Hardings head to North Carolina
EDWARDS — No, this does not make former Los Angeles Lakers great James Worthy the third greatest athlete to attend the University of North Carolina.
Battle Mountain’s Naomi and Lizzy Harding are going to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to continue their academic and running careers.
Huskies running coach Rob Parish, who is a psychotic Lakers fan, has often insisted that Worthy is the best Tar Heel, supplanted only by the Hardings who will be 1a and 1b.
There is the little issue of a guy named Michael Jordan, who is likely the most accomplished athlete from North Carolina, but that’s not important right now apparently.
“James is now No. 3,” Parish joked. “We’re thrilled for the girls, Naomi and Lizzy and their family. It’s fun for us as a program to send athletes to a great university with great academics and a great athletic tradition. I know I’ll spend a lot of time watching (Atlantic Coast Conference) results.”
Welcome to Chapel Hill
Let’s get some things clear. First off, though they hold the same academic standing, Naomi and Lizzy are not twins. Naomi is 11 months older.
Most importantly, they were not a package deal. While they share a love of running — and are extremely accomplished — and both want to major in something involving the medical industry, they almost ended up at different schools.
“We made an agreement at the beginning of this on how we were going to do this,” Lizzy said. “I wanted to go where I was happiest. If that’s the same school, great. If we were at different schools, that’s OK, too.”
In fact, Naomi was leaning toward Wisconsin before settling on powder blue.
“It was a really hard decision for me,” Naomi said. “I had visited North Carolina earlier in the summer, met the new coach and really clicked with her.”
Andrea Grove-McDonough comes to North Carolina after a successful five-year stint with Iowa State. The Tar Heels and the Hardings find themselves in a rebuilding mode.
That’s new for the Hardings, who stepped into a Battle Mountain running juggernaut and ran to success immediately, winning four regional titles, going second-first-first and second at the 4A state meet and finishing in the top 10 two years in a row at Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon.
Not only will the Tar Heels have to get to work, but the Hardings are no longer big fish in a relatively small pond.
“It’s definitely going to be a lot different,” Lizzy said. “Everyone in college was good in high school. It’s going to be a lot different, a big adjustment. We’ll have to develop our freshman and sophomore years. You don’t get noticed until you get to the level of the other best athletes.”
Continuing the trend
While the Hardings are excited about North Carolina, and their parents, Jim and Lynda, are justifiably beaming with pride, Naomi and Lizzy are part of a trend of Battle Mountain runners going on to school.
Val and Liz Constien are at the University of Colorado. Alex Raichart is at the Colorado School of Mines. Izze Calabrese just happens to be at Parish’s alma mater, Montana State, while Sofia Calabrese is attending Villanova. (Maybe there is something to the sister thing at Battle Mountain.) Megan Rossman is running at St. Olaf in Minnesota, while Coco Spangler attends Canisius in New York.
Rita’s two closest peers have climbed the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak 21 times each, but both of them have retired from mountain climbing.