West BloomfieldNovember 21, 2011
WB’s Erin Finn wins cross country state title
By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer
When Nate Belill took over as the head coach of the girls cross country team for West Bloomfield in 2011, one of his first orders of business was to set a goal for Erin Finn to take first place at the state final.
Belill had served in the role of associate coach for a couple of years prior to taking the helm, and given that he was keenly aware of the kind of talent Finn possessed, he was not shy about sharing his expectations with his prized junior.
Some athletes have a knack for rising to that kind of pressure, while others sink under it.
Given that Finn did indeed win the individual state crown in 17 minutes, 22.6 seconds and accomplish the goal set before her, it’s safe to say that you can count her as one who has proved to be more than capable of rising to it.
“I came in fourth (place) last year and knew there was only one girl who would be back who was ahead of me,” Finn said. “I knew I had a really good shot at it, and it was one of my main goals throughout the whole season. I was really working to train myself toward the state meet. That was everything. All the other meets were just building up to the state meet.”
For his part, Belill appreciates the chance he was given to coach a runner of Finn’s caliber.
“It was a tremendous opportunity for me,” he said. “Erin is a one-in-a-million-type athlete. She has a fantastic work ethic and drive to be successful. (She is) setting the bar high for West Bloomfield cross country.”
Finn got a taste of what it feels like to be the first one across the finish line at an early age. The first ribbon she recalls winning was a competition in which the races were broken up into different age groups.
The race Finn entered featured runners who fell between the ages of 5 and 10. Despite being on the youngest end of that age range, it was Finn who claimed victory that day — at the ripe old age of 5.
The thought of one day winning a state title also came to Finn at a young age. As early as sixth- or seventh-grade, she already had aspirations of being the last runner standing in state competition.
“I remember talking in the car with my mom about how awesome it would be to win the state title,” she said. “It’s just incredible that it happened. After the race, it took me a couple minutes to process. It was like, ‘I can’t believe I’ve finally done this.’ It’s been my dream since forever.”
As with most championship-caliber athletes, a strong support system played a key role in Finn’s success. She credits her family for encouraging her to make the most of her talent.
She is also grateful for other sources of help she has received along the way.
“First of all, God has blessed me with a wonderful talent,” she said. “My two coaches (Belill and associate coach Brian Murphy) on the team were really great. They always had a plan for me, and stuck to it to help me get to my ultimate goal of winning the state meet. And I have great teammates. Everything has come together this year.”
Winning a state title has thus far represented the pinnacle of success for Finn, but the path she took to get there has not been an easy one.
As a freshman, Finn suffered two stress factures, which caused her to miss the majority of the season. Following the second injury, she questioned whether she would be able to continue to run.
The 2011 campaign is the only one in which she completed a full season. The obstacles she has overcome and the success she has enjoyed have helped to increase her belief in herself, both on and off the track.
“It definitely gives me confidence,” Finn said. “Running is important, but there are things that are more important. Education is important to me. I want to go and do medical research. I can do what I put my mind to. Nothing is impossible.”
Finn’s immediate future includes a footlocker regional competition to be held in Wisconsin Nov. 26. If she finishes in the top 10 there, she will qualify for the national race in San Diego, which will include the top 40 girls in the nation.
Finn is elated about what the future may hold.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I know if I keep working and putting my trust in God that things will be alright in the end.”