Article By: TODD KRESS firstname.lastname@example.org
If it wasn’t for a 99-cent slushie, Northwestern’s Alyssa Zack may have never had a running career.
“My dad used to take me out on runs when I was younger,” Zack said. “I would do the Lehigh Valley Little Road Runners kids races. It was kind of fun, but my dad afterwards would always take me to the gas station to get the 99-cent slushie.”
So, it wasn’t the running that kept Zack coming back. It was more the slushies.
Many years later it has led to a handful of league and district medals, state championship appearances and the title of this year’s Northwestern Press Female Athlete of the Year.
Zack also played soccer and basketball growing up. As high school approached, she was still unsure if she wanted to continue playing soccer or try something new. That’s when her competitive running career began.
“In seventh grade when I first started cross country is when I fell in love with running,” Zack said. “But really it was my dad that got me into it in the beginning.”
Zack, along with the trio of Madeline Consuelos, Sarah Supplee and Allison Costa, qualified for states for the first time in their track careers in the 4x800 relay after placing second in Class 3A competition at the District 11 meet. The foursome finished in 9:42.60, just .51 seconds behind winner Liberty.
A year after placing fourth in the same event at districts and missing states by just two places, Zack and hear relay teammates were able to reach Shippensburg in her senior season.
“I know the other two seniors wanted it just as bad as I did,” Zack said. “Just to cap off our cross country and track year with another trip to states, but this time in track, because we had never been.”
Consuelos and Supplee were the other two seniors that helped lead this pack to states, leaving Costa as the lone returnee next spring looking to defend the Tigers’ Colonial League title in the event. Northwestern ran a 9:42.55 at the Colonial League Championships, over 16 seconds faster than second-place finisher Saucon Valley.
The group started to realize that making history and qualifying for states was within reach midway through the season.
“We came off a very good cross country season and were training hard over the winter,” Zack said. “Going into track season, we didn’t quite have the mindset of ‘Wow, we want to go to states’ right away. It wasn’t until the Allen Invitational when we placed second and set a personal record with a pretty good time. And we decided, ‘OK, maybe states is actually possible.’”
It was also during that meet when the group mimicked removable tattoos that Liberty also wore. That was just one of many team-bonding ideas the team used over the season.
The foursome also regularly prayed before races to calm their nerves and anxiety at the starting line. Zack and Supplee were leaders of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Club at Northwestern. The group also wrote the initials of each runner on their fingers prior to running, as well as the phrase “run as one” on their wrists.
“We were really, really close this year,” Zack said. “I think what really made this core group different is we started praying before we ran. And that was a big thing that changed for us this year. I think this team was very religious. We would sit down before our races and get in a little circle, hold hands and each say a little prayer to calm our anxiety.”
The Tigers ran a 9:55.27 in the 4x800 at states, placing 21st in the prelims.
Zack also placed fourth in the 800-meter run at leagues (2:27.05) and 17th at districts (2:29.57).
In the fall, she produced her best cross country season of her four-year career. To culminate a 23-1 regular season for Northwestern, Zack placed fourth at the Colonial League Meet in a time of 20:44.78. She followed that up by taking sixth at districts in Class 2A with a time of 19:59, which she called the best race of her career.
“I think I had a pretty good cross country season,” Zack said. “Over the summer I trained with Molly Tarvin, who did very well at her first year in college running. I knew I had a good summer training going. Definitely when the postseason rolled around, something clicked in me and I just peaked at the right time.”
The Tigers won both leagues and districts, including their first district crown since 2014. Zack finished states in a time of 21:02 for 13th place, helping lead the Tigers to a third-place finish as a team. She was the top finisher in all three postseason races for Northwestern and was named a Colonial League First-Team all-star for cross country.
While Zack was unsure about running in college, she decided a few months ago that she couldn’t give it up quite yet.
“I decided and thought what would my life be without running,” Zack said. “It’s done so many good things for me, not only physically, but mentally as well. So I decided that I was not ready to give up running.”
She will attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the fall and plans to study engineering and run for the school’s track and cross country teams.