It was after he sprained his ankle in a pickup basketball game last summer that Will Shafer decided to give up the sport for his senior year at Gray-New Gloucester High.
The injury was a lucky turn of events, so to speak.
Shafer, a standout runner for the cross country and outdoor track teams, promptly went to his track coach to tell him he was going to run indoor track instead of playing basketball. The decision has paid off.
Since the beginning of the indoor season, Shafer has been one of the top middle-distance runners in the state and currently sits atop the state rankings for both the mile (4 minutes, 19.50 seconds) and 800 meters (1:57.76).
“When I sprained my ankle, I couldn’t run for a day. I didn’t like the thought of jeopardizing my running career by playing basketball, even though it was a minor injury. It made me realize I care about running too much,” Shafer said.
After finishing second in the mile at the Class B outdoor state meet last year (4:16.28) and fourth in the event at the New England championships (4:18.17), Shafer has bigger goals this year.
He wants to win the mile at the New England indoor championships and make the elite heat of the New Balance national high school championships in New York. His coach, Todd Mercer, said all those goals are well within reach, considering that Shafer has not started to taper his training and won’t do so until after the Western Maine Conference championships. The WMC championships and SMAA championships both will be held Saturday at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham.
“When he came in second in the mile in the states outdoors last year, it was a phenomenal race,” said Mercer. “He trained harder over the summer, then he ran 4:21 earlier this season, and then 4:19.50. When you account for the smaller track, that probably equates to the 4:16 he ran at states.
“Last year was a breakout year. I think he will continue to drop his times this year and next year, and the year after that. He’s an amazing, focused athlete. I believe he’ll eventually break 4 minutes in the mile.”
Shafer was accepted through the early decision process to Dartmouth, a top NCAA Division I program. Though he was Gray-New Gloucester’s leading scorer in basketball as a junior, his athletic future was going to be in cross country and track, and he was looking ahead toward college when he decided to give up basketball.
Shafer is used to choosing his own path.
“After turning my ankle, I came to summer cross country practice and told my coach I was switching to indoors. He definitely was pretty excited. After I told my parents, they were excited and told me they had talked about it among themselves. No one ever said anything to me,” Shafer said.
Needless to say, Shafer doesn’t miss basketball.
“I miss playing in front of a crowd, but this year I’m so much more committed to running and am really glad I switched over. I just know in college next year I’ll be better prepared and I want to prepare myself for that transition,” Shafer said.
LAKE REGION junior Kate Hall leads all New England girls in three events – the 55 meters (7.01), 200 (25.09) and long jump (19-11). She also ranks third in the country in the long jump and fifth in the 55.
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]Twitter: FlemingPph