Manheim Township’s Ava Shirk exploded onto the varsity high school cross country scene last fall.

In her freshman debut a year ago, Shirk placed third at the Lancaster-Lebanon League championship meet, and fourteenth at the District 3-3A championship event. She would have competed in the state meet if not for the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited the number of qualifiers from the district meet.

As a result, she’s expected to be among the top L-L girls cross country runners in the upcoming 2021 season. She’ll also be among an experienced and talented bunch at Manheim Township that should contend for the L-L Section One crown and beyond.

With that said, here’s a Q&A conducted with Shirk last week as she gears up for the 2021 season.

Last year was unlike any other amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. But it was also your first season competing at the high school being that you were a freshman. How did you navigate those challenges?

“I was nervous coming up to the varsity level. It was nice in the summer. We had practices and I got to know the team and meet the coaches and my teammates. Everyone was really welcoming.”

Anything with competition that you struggled with early on in the 2020 season or were you immediately confident you could hang at the varsity level?

“I was nervous coming up. I wasn’t sure where I would be one the team. I was surprised I would be towards the front. My goal was just to be on varsity. I didn’t realize I’d be a top runner.”

This past spring, you were among the top runners for the Manheim Township track & field team, competing in the 1,600 and 3,200. Anything you learned competing varsity in track & field for the first time?

“It’s definitely different from cross country. It took me a little longer to adjust in track & field. It’s easier for me to do longer runs. I’d rather do the 5K than the 3,200 or the mile. It feels short to me. I don’t have as much speed. I have more endurance.”

What got you started in running and what has been the journey since then?

“Around second grade I started going on short runs with my dad. Then I did Girls On The Run in third grade through sixth grade. I mostly just did it for fun. In seventh grade, I started cross country and really enjoyed the positive atmosphere with good teammates and coaches.”

Have you tried any other sports along the way?

“I tried soccer when I was younger. And softball and basketball. I’ve found I’m best at running and I enjoy that the most.”

What’s the training schedule like for you this offseason?

“Each week I add a few miles on. Right now I’m doing about 25 miles each week. ...I usually go on runs in the morning or around my neighborhood. We have practices four times a week. It’s tough to make all of those practices because I’m a lifeguard and can’t make all those practices. So I usually run in the morning. They’re mostly moderate runs, and I do a few hilly runs each week.”

What’s it like being a lifeguard? Do you have a passion for the pool?

“I’ve never been on a swim team but I enjoy being in the water.”

This fall, you’ll be part of an experienced Manheim Township girls cross country team. With that said, what are your goals or expectations for this bunch?

“I’m hoping this year our team will get to go to districts. Last year we were close but our whole team didn’t make it. I’m hoping we can do well this year. We have a few talented freshmen coming up and other returning runners that will make our team strong.”

What other teams do you expect will be the rival to Manheim Township girls cross country this season?

“Warwick and McCaskey should have pretty good teams.”

Time for some fun questions. Let’s start in the classroom. What’s your favorite class or what do you excel at?

“Science. I find that most interesting. Probably animals and biology type of stuff.”

You find a genie in a bottle and you get three wishes. What are they?

“One of them would be to be a state champion in cross country.”

What was your favorite toy as a child?

“I had a stuffed animal. It was a Lion named Yellow.”

If you could be any animal, what would it be and why?

“Probably a Cheetah because they can run fast.”

Are you superstitious?

“I usually have the same dinner before a race. It’s not really a superstition. I just find it works for me. ...Usually pasta.”

You’re in charge of the lunch menu at school for a day, what’s the first thing you add or change?

“I would add more vegetarian options because I’m a vegetarian.”

You’re good at running. What sport are you the worst at?

“Anything that involves a ball.”

What motivates you in life?

“I just want to be the best I can be. I really enjoy running. It’s a stress-reliever. It makes me feel good and feel like I’m accomplishing something.”

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