ALTON — When it comes to running Natalie Halliday is in the infancy of her career.
Halliday was a lifelong soccer player before a knee injury forced her to quit the game she loved. A fierce competitor, Halliday yearned to find a new athletic muse and found it in running. Now that new love has landed the Marquette Catholic senior a collegiate scholarship to Murray State University to continue her career.
“Just the thought of running again is such an exciting thing for me considering I have only been running two years,” Halliday said. “I had two knee surgeries my freshman and sophomore years and I'd played soccer my whole life. After not being able to play that I had to pick up a new sport and this kind of came to me. Now being able to go Division I after only doing this two years, it's really exciting for me and my family.”
Halliday just finished her senior campaign for cross country with the Explorers and still has her final season as a distance runner for track ahead of her in the spring. She advanced from the Class 1A New Athens Regional individually with an eighth place finish in 20 minutes, 35 seconds.
Unfortunately her season came to an end at the Metro East Lutheran Sectional, but first-year head coach Mike Brooks said he was impressed with what he saw from her.
“This is exciting,” said Brooks. “I spent 13 years coaching at the college level and I know how thrilling it is for these kids to be able to sign at a school like Murray State, which is a great school. I know Natalie is going to fit in well. She had a great senior year. We saw steady improvement for her. She ran really well at the regional meet, but we had some tough weather at the sectional. I was really hoping she would advance and have one more run, but it wasn't in the stars.”
Halliday admitted the addition of Brooks as her coach this season really allowed her to grow as a runner. With such little experience, she's still learning the nuances of her new sport.
“I definitely still feel like a lot of girls have an advantage over me, because their whole life they've been running and me coming in and only doing it for two years, I'm definitely behind,” Halliday said. “I'm like a 2 year old running. I've learned that I want to pace myself. I don't want to just take off and just get ahead of everyone, I want to put myself in the middle of it and work my way to the top.
“This is my first year with coach Brooks and last year our coach was the athletic director and we kind of taught ourselves what we were doing and especially that being my first year, I just kind of picked it up on my own and I felt like I had no chance of running in college. But (Brooks) really pushed me and he helped me find where I needed to be and this is where I need to be.”
Murray State is where Halliday feels she belongs. The college in Kentucky is part of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Racers were fourth in the OVC Tournament and finished 22nd in NCAA regional competition this season.
“I know the girls that are going to Murray have a lot more experience than me and they probably know a lot more about running than I do, but I'm going to train really hard over the summer and get coach Brooks to help me,” she said. “I want to go in there and fit right in. I want to be right where those girls are and don't want to be behind them at all.”
Brooks said that Halliday's raw skill set is appealing for Murray State. The talent is definitely there, but there is a ton of untapped potential due to her lack of overall experience. He thinks her work ethic will greatly benefit her in college, too.
“She's got a very good work ethic and I know that when she gets up to that level they're going to put that to the test,” Brooks said. “It's going to be different for her than high school, but I think she'll be ready for that and she'll do well. One thing we've worked on this year is improving foot speed, because it all begins with foot speed. I think when she gets to Murray State they will hit that hard and I look for some big improvements once she gets up there.”
But before she goes to college, Halliday is stoked to cap her Marquette career with a great track season.
“I don't really know what distance I'm going to run because I've never really had the experience of running with a coach,” Halliday said. “I think we're looking at the 800 and the mile for being my strong suit.”
She knows one thing, she'll miss Marquette when she's gone.
“Marquette's just such a family environment,” Halliday said. “You can always count on (principal) (Mike) Slaughter or someone to be there for you every meet. Someone is always there to cheer you on and that's what I'll miss the most.”
Halliday plans to major in nutrition and dietetics at Murray State.