By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD — Claire Howlett, the Westhill senior who has made a meteoric rise in three years from a track novice into one of the nation’s top high school distance runners, announced last week that she will be attending Stanford next year on a scholarship.
Howlett, who finished second at last week’s FCIAC cross country championships, was leaning toward Stanford during her search, and said her decision was sealed after a trip to the school earlier this month.
“I was also looking at other schools and then I went out there for a visit and got to spend time with the team and the coaches and got to see the campus,” Howlett said. “The campus is beautiful, the school is amazing, academically as well as athletically. They have one of the strongest cross country and track programs in the country for women, and the women on the team are incredible. They are very talented as well as a lot of fun.”
Howlett’s story runs a close second to her talent. She joined the Westhill cross country team as a freshman, absent, she said, of much athletic ability, to stay in shape and for the camaraderie.
Last spring, she won both the 1,600 and 3,200 at the State Open meets, setting a state mark in the latter. Howlett also won the 3,200 and placed second in the 1,600 at the Class LL meets, and was third in the 1,600 at the New England Championships.
Howlett’s emergence, and the arrival last year of Staples’ Hannah DeBalsi, created a friendly but compelling rivalry and has contributed to a period where the number of national-caliber track athletes in the state may be at an all-time high.
Howlett said her lone trepidation was the distance between Stamford and Stanford, which is located in Palo Alto, Calif.
“I was a little bit hesitant because of how far it is,” Howlett said. “I think all the benefits of the school outweigh that.”
Howlett said she expects to compete in cross country for Stanford and start out running the 5k, as well as the 10k as she matures.
“For me, the longer the distance the better I do,” Howlett said.
Howlett said she was happy to be in a position to make a decision early in her senior year.
“I’m very relieved,” Howlett said. “It’s nice to just be able to focus on school and everything else.”