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2011-05-25 / Sports

Midlothian’s “Fab Five” will run collegiately

By Joey Matthews
CONTRIBUTING WRITER


Sam Hush (from left), Claire Benjamin, Darren Barlow, Krista Willard and Brayden Burleigh take a lap around the track at Midlothian High School. 
Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Sam Hush (from left), Claire Benjamin, Darren Barlow, Krista Willard and Brayden Burleigh take a lap around the track at Midlothian High School. Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer The original “Fab Five” consisted of University of Michigan’s 1991 men’s basketball recruiting class of highly touted freshmen, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. They created a national buzz, being considered by many as one of greatest freshmen classes ever recruited.

Locally, there’s another “Fab Five.” They are Midlothian High School senior distance runners Brayden Burleigh, Darren Barlow, Sam Hush, Krista Willard and Claire Benjamin.

Through hard work, focus and determination, all five Trojan standouts will compete collegiately at Division I schools this fall. Burleigh and Barlow will run at Virginia Tech, Hush at Virginia Commonwealth University, Benjamin at Vanderbilt and Willard at High Point (N.C.).

They were spurred on by Stan Morgan, Midlothian’s longtime cross-country and track-and-field coach. “He always told us, ‘You can do a whole lot more than you think you can do,’” Benjamin said.

Their individual and team accomplishments helped make Trojan history.

Willard and Benjamin contributed to three state cross-country championship seasons during their four-year tenures on the team, including last fall’s run to the title.

Krista Willard

Willard, who was hampered by mononucleosis through part of last year, highlighted her gritty fall running efforts with a 20th-place finish in the Great American Cross-Country Festival in October in Cary, N.C. She was joined by three other teammates in the top 25. She finished fifth in the Central Region meet in the 3,200-meter race during her last outdoor-track season with a personal-best time of 11:14. She’s running the 3,200 and 1,600 this outdoor season.

“I want to finish up strong,” she said.

She points to Morgan for motivating her and other team members to reach their potential. “My coach doesn’t give himself enough credit,” she said. “He always says it’s because he’s got good athletes, but without him we wouldn’t have won as many championships.”

Willard said of her decision to attend High Point, “At first, I didn’t even know where it was. I was thinking about attending a college out west, like Oklahoma State, Wyoming or New Mexico. I really liked High Point’s coaches when they talked with me. I liked their philosophy and how they are trying to build a program. They have three other girls who are good runners coming into the program with me.”

She credited her parents, Scott and Gail, for supporting her in all her running endeavors.

Claire

Benjamin has been accepted into the engineering program at Vanderbilt. “It’s a great academic school,” she explained of her decision to attend the school. “It’s a real good size. You get to spend a lot of time with the professors.”

Among her running achievements, she finished 10th at the state cross-country meet at Great Meadows. During the indoor season, she finished fifth in the state in the 3,200 with a personal-best time of 10:57. She is competing in the 3,200 in outdoor track this spring andalsorunsonthe4x800relayteam.“We want to see how far we can go in that,” she said of the relay team.

“I’ve been pretty lucky, pretty blessed, and I’ve had great support from my coaches, teammates and my parents, [David and Jana],” Benjamin said. “Coach always taught us that we were not just running for ourselves, but for every other girl on the team.”

Sam Hush

Hush, Burleigh and Barlow assisted Midlothian’s run to the state title last fall. The team also won the Nike Southeast Region meet and earned the right to compete at the Nike Cross Nationals at Portland, Ore.

Hush said he chose VCU because “I really liked all the people on the team, and we like to hang out with each other.”

He finished ninth at the regional crosscountry meet and 17th at the state meet with a personal-best time of 15:56. He also competed in indoor and outdoor track all four years as a Trojan. “I used that to train for cross-country,” he said.

As to how he managed to stay motivated through four seasons of year-round scholastic running, he said, “I just like being able to go out and run. You don’t have to buy a lot of equipment like you do in other sports. You just go out and do whatever you can to improve yourself and your times. You have to be willing to work hard.”

He credited his parents, Lee and Wendy, for their efforts in supporting him.

Brayden

Burleigh and Barlow will join three other former Midlothian runners at Tech – Michael Hammond, Sammy Dow and Erin Stahle. “It will help us by making us a little more comfortable,” Burleigh said of easing the transition to Tech.

Burleigh competed in cross-country and indoor and outdoor track all four years at Midlothian. He finished seventh at the state cross-country meet this year and was second in the regional run.

He attributed his success to “being able to stay injury-free” and getting stronger through weight-lifting and stretching, as well as a running regiment that averaged 50-55 miles per week.

He said the Midlothian distance program consistently excels because “the program has been established for a long time and attracts motivated runners who work hard to keep the excellence going.”

He wants to study to become a teacher at Tech. “I sent the Tech coach an email and told him I wanted to go there and run, and he responded the next day,” said Burleigh. “I committed to go there in January.”

He said his parents, Bryan and Pam, helped him achieve his academic and athletic goals through their commitment to support him.

Darren Barlow

Barlow finished third in the state cross-country meet in 15:40. “I love what I do,” he said. “I just want to get better. I want to work longer and harder.”

He said he and his Trojan teammates are committed to excellence. “It’s something we love to do,” he said.

He started running in the fifth grade with his parents, Scott and Angie, in local road races. He also started swimming year-round as an 11-year-old with the prestigious Poseidon program. He gave up swimming prior to his senior year to concentrate on running. He ran indoor and outdoor this year as well.

He’ll go into engineering at Tech. “That will have to be my first focus,” he said.

Barlow is proud to be joining the ranks of the Hokies. “They won the ACC indoor track-and-field championship this winter,” he said. “I can’t wait to get up there.”

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