Just last year, Morgan Turner couldnâ€™t keep up with her parents, Darren and Connie, when they went on a jog.
My, how things have changed. Now they probably canâ€™t keep up with her.
After winning all seven cross-country races sheâ€™s entered this season, Turner is taking the Southern Piedmont Conference by storm and is drawing rave reviews from longtime coach Jeff Cloninger.
â€œI thought she was going to be good, but not as good as she has done,â€ he said.
Turner trains six to seven days and estimates she runs between 35-40 miles per week. Thatâ€™s quite a change from running only the 400 meters her eighth-grade year.
Despite running in only the Tri-County Conference meet, due to soccer, Turner took first place in the 400. Perhaps it was that small bit of success that has spurred even more as a high school freshman.
Already the favorite to win the conference meet, the scary part is sheâ€™s just beginning to realize her immense potential.
â€œSheâ€™s just now learning how to run the last mile real hard. First couple of meets, she ran behind the seniors,â€ said Cloninger. â€œIn the county meet, she seemed to really pour it on, where as when she first started running she would just try to beat her at the end.â€
Cloninger, who has coached cross-country for 18 years, has seen many gifted runners come down the turnpike, but none like Turner.
â€œIâ€™ve never had a freshman have this much talent, male or female,â€ he said. â€œStephanie Atkins really wasnâ€™t that good as a freshman, but she developed as she went along,â€ he said.
Atkins, a 2002 graduate, holds four school records at Lincolnton, at least for now. Cloninger believes Turner will break Atkins 5K record as early as next week (Oct. 12) at the Unifour Meet, where they are hoping for Turner to finish in the top five.
To put in perspective Cloningerâ€™s compliment, former runner Mark Hoffman was a state champion and three years in a row (1999-2001) the boys team finished second in the state.
Still no runner was this good as a freshman.
Does her dominance and coachâ€™s comments surprise the 14-year old?
â€œYeah, because itâ€™s just my first year, so I donâ€™t really know what to expect yet because I donâ€™t know how much I can push myself,â€ she said.
â€œIâ€™m not sure what my best is and there have been a lot of good runners, so thatâ€™s a really big compliment,â€ she added.
Turnerâ€™s best time (20:31) came on her home course, and would be a school record, but although it has very rough terrain is not truly a 5K in distance.
Itâ€™s Turnerâ€™s fierce competitive spirit that sets her apart in Cloningerâ€™s eyes in her first high school year.
â€œIn practice she never wants to be beat. She wants to beat the boys at the very end. Sheâ€™s very, very competitive and gets pretty angry if she loses,â€ he said.
In fact, Turner doesnâ€™t even want to lose to her coach.
â€œHeâ€™s (Mr. Cloninger) helped me a lot. Some days I donâ€™t want to do it and he pushes me and other days he tries to beat me and I donâ€™t want him to be able to brag that he beat me,â€ she said.
Turnerâ€™s come a long way already, but only God and her know how high her ceiling can be.
â€œI didnâ€™t think I would be able to win, since Iâ€™ve only ran track,â€ she said.
For many, experiencing so much success would be hard to handle, but for the mature-beyond-her-years Turner she hasnâ€™t changed a bit.
â€œShe doesnâ€™t let it go to her head. Itâ€™s not like she thinks sheâ€™s so much better than anybody else,â€ Cloninger said.
by John Mark Brooks