The Brooklyn Bridge:How MS's Top Girl Plans to Make the Leap

The Brooklyn Bridge: How MS's Top Runner Plans to Make the Leap 

Top-ranked Brooklyn Biancamano is up against more than a field of runners at Mississippi's State Cross Country Championships on Saturday. As much as any competitor, she's racing against herself, the clock, and the record books.

For Long Beach High School's freshman phenom, it's been a season of dominance. Undefeated through seven races, her average margin of victory is 92 seconds.

 As state championship season begins, the gap between Biancamano and the rest of Mississippi is the second biggest margin than any other state in the country. According to a MileSplit data analysis, the average 5K time differential between the top two girls' times, across all 50 states, is 19 seconds. In Mississippi, that gap is 62 seconds. (Biancamano's 17:58 is more than a minute faster than Hernando High School's Katelyn Cartwright's 19:00.)

 So when Biancamano toes the line at Choctaw Trails on Saturday, her first goal is an 8-second PR to break Morgan Claire Rose's course record (17:50) set in 2017.  Beyond that, Biancamano is chasing more ambitious goals, which includes breaking Mississippi legend Cory McGee's 17:29 in 2007 at the Foot Locker South Regional in North Carolina. Biancamano also wants a higher spot in the national rankings and knows exactly how many freshmen runners (22) are currently ahead of her. She's still young and there are a lot of girls to pass, but those around her believe she possesses the talent, discipline and will to do it.

 "She is so competitive and just has it in her to keep pushing herself," says Long Beach Coach Erin Biancamano, who also happens to be Brooklyn's mother. "She has never liked to lose."

People who've been around Mississippi's running scene for a while see something special in Biancamano. Olan Welch, a state champion in the 1970s, has coached high school runners for three decades; Brooklyn is one of the last he coached before retiring. 

 "She's the best I've ever coached -  by far," Welch said. "If she keeps improving at the rate she's improving she'll be able to write her own ticket to wherever she wants to go."

 But let's not get too far down that road. Still a week shy of turning 15, the whole idea of running as a sport is fairly new to her.  A former soccer player, it wasn't until she tested through the charts on agility and speed drills during a soccer training seminar that she started hearing about a sport called cross country.

 "I had never really grasped that running was a sport. I didn't really think you could do it competitively," she said in an interview this week. "But once I started training, I just fell in love with it. I love that you can work so hard and see an immediate outcome."

 Since joining the cross country team in seventh grade her improvement has been rapid. Last year, in eighth grade, she won the 2017 state championship (her 18:03 was two minutes and 32 seconds faster than second place). A few weeks later, she placed second at the USATF National Junior Olympics XC Championships in Tallahassee, Fl. against some of the country's top same-age runners.

 The challenge of managing Brooklyn's growth as a runner falls to Erin Biancamano, who must find a way to keep Brooklyn and her teammates from getting too bogged down by the endless stream of running statistics, rankings, and personal bests that are available at the click of a button. For an athlete like Brooklyn, who follows a strict all-natural diet and keeps meticulous notes in a running log, motivation is less necessary than keeping her focused on the right goals.

 "I try to remind them that the only thing I'm interested in is their growth individually. You can't compare yourself to every single other runner. We want to grow as a team and get faster but you're not going to get a PR every race," the elder Biancamano says.

 Despite her early success, Brooklyn agrees there is room for improvement. Sometimes she stays too close to the pack for too long before breaking away; other times she goes out too hard or attacks hills too aggressively in pursuit of a fast time.

"I definitely think I can grow as a runner strategically," she  says. "Right now I just go out and run and I think that gets me sometimes." 

 Can you blame her? Without other runners to push her, there's only so much race simulation she can do. That's something on Erin's mind a lot as a coach. At some point, she knows the time will come when her daughter should enter more competitive races, often out of state. That could mean allowing her to run as an individual outside of the team, which Brooklyn says is one of her favorite parts of the sport.

 "It's a double edged sword," Erin Biancamano says. "How do I get her that competition? How far do I have to go?"

 For now, Brooklyn will look to enter NTN South Regional in Texas or Foot Locker Regional next month, either of which will give her a taste of what it's like to run against some of the very best in the country. (They're leaning towards NTNs but haven't decided yet.)

 In the meantime, she says she's been finding new teammates to help push her in workouts.

"The boys are starting to give me some competition."