This is pretty much the only time of year that Jessie Petersen misses high school track. With the Central Coast Section championships last week and the California Interscholastic Federation championships this weekend, the Carlmont High senior knows that she could be running against the top high school runners in the state and contending for a state title in the 3,200 meters.
“It's definitely something that's on my mind,” she says. “CCS last week I was thinking about it. This is the part of the season it hits me harder.”
That's not to say she thinks it was a bad idea to forgo the high school track season as a junior and senior.
“It's sad but at the same time I do not regret my decision to (not) run on the Carlmont team,” she says. “It is a disappointment that I can't run in state but it doesn't make me regret my decision.”
Petersen has taken the path less traveled the past two springs. The two-time CCS champion in the 3,200 lost out on the chance to become one of the few runners to take a section title four times, deciding instead to compete as an unattached runner while training with the RF-United Running Club. She says the decision was easy but what led up to it was quite difficult.
Jeff Gilkey was the distance coach at Carlmont, leading a successful group of runners including Petersen. In the fall of 2009, Gilkey was caught entering an ineligible runner at a high school meet. Eventually, Gilkey was fired and new coaches were brought in.
However, many of the runners, including Petersen, continued to train with Gilkey. That led to school officials demanding that they stop working with outside coaches. Runners were required to sign a contract promising that they wouldn't do so under the justification that teenage runners could be subject to injuries due to overtraining.
Many of those athletes declined to sign the contract and stayed with Gilkey.
Petersen hasn't looked back. She says she and her fellow former-Carlmont runners have maintained the camaraderie of a team while training.
“Almost the entire cross country team does what I do,” she says. “I have three or four girls and we all train together. The boys team, there's probably 15 of them, and they do that too. We have the sense of team.”
Among the issues in the great unknown was whether college coaches would see the runners compete. Petersen has done just fine, earning a scholarship to Syracuse.
“When I would talk to college coaches I would explain I'm not on the high school team anymore for these reasons,” she says. “Once I explained why I was missing, they understood. They saw times.”
The times have been impressive. At the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in April, Petersen ran the 5,000 in 16 minutes, 51.71 seconds. At the San Francisco State Distance Carnival in March, she tried the 3,000 steeplechase, finishing in 10:53.69. She will get the chance to run against several top high school runners on June 11 when she competes in the Golden West Invitational at Folsom High School.
“This is my second season doing it so it’s kind of become the norm for me,” she says. “I remember last season, it was quite a bit more pressure in the few meets. I do remember going to Mt. SAC and feeling a lot of pressure and going to Golden West and feeling a lot of pressure.”
After Golden West, Petersen plans to take a little break. But come July, she'll be heading to Syracuse to begin training with her new teammates and enroll in summer school. She plans to study physical therapy but isn't sure what direction she may take with that.
But she's sure she made the right decision about leaving high school track. Even though it may have cost her a medal this weekend.