May 27, 2003
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Not many people can say running 70 miles a week is "fun", but then again it takes a special kind of person to break a school track record their freshman year.
Shari Gorga began her track career at the University of Maryland as a walk-on freshman, without a scholarship to her name. Her speedy rise to the record books in the 3,000 meter steeplechase is only a surprise to those who do not know of her innate drive to excel.
"Just because I am not a scholarship athlete doesn't mean I would not work as hard or be as dedicated as the others," says Gorga. "It means I work even harder, and try to be better than the scholarship athletes in order to show myself that I can be competitive at the college level."
Gorga, a marketing major, began the foundation for a successful collegiate career at North Hunterdon High School in Annandale, N.J. A varsity letter-winner in cross country, she led her team in becoming the 2000 Group III State Champions and the 2001 Central Jersey Sectional Champions. She capped off her high school career by receiving MVP and Most Outstanding Senior, under the tutelage of coach Don Roberts. And when she came to Maryland for cross country tryouts, she caught the eye of head coach Trent Sanderson.
"She came on a visit to Maryland and had that positive attitude that I am looking for on my team," said Sanderson. "She demonstrated that she could be a team leader."
Leadership qualities in hand, it took less than one year for Gorga to make her mark on the team. Although the fall cross country season was headlined by fellow freshmen teammates, Gorga competed in four meets for the Terps, establishing herself as a reliable runner. Moving on to indoor track, Gorga took three top-10 finishes in the mile run. However, it was during the outdoor track season that Gorga finally found her niche on the team.
The 3,000 meter steeplechase seemed to be a good potential fit, since the event combined her high school experience in hurdles and her longtime love for distance running. But with seven and a half laps, including four barriers and one water pit in each, the steeplechase is an extremely difficult race to run for those without the necessary skills. However, Sanderson saw that Gorga possessed the drive and ability to be a competitor in the event.
"She is just an all-around tough athlete, and her agility and balance are strong," said Sanderson.
Gorga showed this strength at the Maryland Invitational, finishing second in her first time ever running the event. Her time of 12:19.34 was only four seconds off the school record set by Marjorie Bollinger in 2001. Immediately, she began to work towards making history, and accomplished this in just her second time running the steeplechase. Her time of 11:33.60 at George Mason's Patriot Open smashed the record by nearly 45 seconds and marked the seventh-fastest time in the ACC this season.
"When I broke the record, it was the best feeling in the world," said Gorga. "I crossed the finish line and looked at the clock, and was so happy and pleased with myself because I had done something incredible, and was only a freshman. I was instantly motivated to keep working hard, because all the hard work always pays off!"
Despite achieving such an individual honor, Gorga tributes much of her success to her coaches and teammates.
"The coaching staff and all members of the teams are very motivational for each other and supportive, which is extremely helpful," said Gorga. "I love our track and field and cross country teams, and I know that without all of them, the school record would not have been broken this year."
Never complacent with her work, Gorga has even higher goals in mind for next season, including getting her time down to under 10:40, which would qualify her for postseason competition. This calls for a very productive off season, which Sanderson feels will come naturally for the experienced runner.
"She has the physiological edge we talk about every day on the team to take into the off season," he said. "There is no doubt that Shari will come back from the summer and be a different person. She now knows that if you do certain things over and over with slight improvement you will get what you want in life."
Along with a new head coach, next season brings unlimited possibilities for this talented runner. With her continued hard work and dedication, the Terps can count on Gorga to produce lower times and higher finishes throughout her future on the track team.
"I will never slack off or take the easy way out," she vows, "because I know that all the time and effort that I put into my love will pay off and reward me, which it did this season."