DARIEN — It was the indoor track equivalent of the dream team: during the winters of 2013-14, four girls worked in harmony to achieve perfection. Anna Sulger was in the leadoff spot for the Darien 4×200 relay, followed by, in order, Catherine Lacy, Maddie Schneider and Dillon Schoen.
They were undefeated, winning FCIAC, Class, State Open and New England championships.
“Honestly, I don’t know how we did it,” said Sulger as she recalled the seasons with great clarity. “It was all amazing. My sophomore year we kind of knew, and junior year everyone was out to get us.”
Perhaps just as notable as the work on the track were the accomplishments in the classroom. Schoen and Lacy, a year ahead, currently attend, respectively, Stanford and Yale. Schoen is a member of the lacrosse team while Lacy is the only one who decided not to continue competing.
Then there are Sulger and Schneider, whose friendship dates back to elementary school and youth soccer fields. They have just started their freshmen track seasons, Sulger at Harvard and Schneider at West Point.
“I was looking mostly at Ivy League schools, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Duke,” said Sulger. “I went on an official visit to Harvard and it had the best track program by far, and I wanted the combination of great academic and great athletics. I figured it was the best place for me to continue my track career.”
Schneider was eyeing many of the same schools as Sulger before she got a call from Army coach Mike Smith.
“I wasn’t thinking about West Point at all, I wasn’t thinking about the military at all,” Schneider said. “I went to look at it and I fell in love. I liked how everyone there had a purpose and they always pushed themselves to become better. It is cool to be around so many people who are so motivated.”
Both Sulger and Schneider had a great deal of individual success as well. Sulger was the indoor and CIAC Class L champion in both the 300 and 600 meters as a junior, and swept 200- and 400-meter titles in the FCIAC, Class L and State Open during the indoor season. Sulger equaled her accomplishments last indoor season, but was slowed by injury in the spring.
“I was always so nervous during my individual events,” Sulger said. “I looked at as the relay as my warmup.”
Schneider was untouchable in the pole vault during her junior and senior seasons, sweeping all postseason titles. She was able to handle the unusual combination of going back and forth between the pole vault and relays.
“It was definitely hard at times,” Schneider said. “I would be going for a personal record and then I’d be called over to run something else. It was frustrating, but I liked to be involved with the relays and doing something with my team. But running is important for the pole vault too so doing sprints made sense.”
Both Sulger and Schneider are still getting adjusted to their new college surroundings and the challenge of increased competition.
“I lift every day and that’s been a huge transition for me, but it’s really important as a sprinter to be able to get stronger,” Sulger said. “It takes up a lot of time and the academics are rigorous. But I’m really excited. My teammates are amazing. Some of them are trying to get to the Olympics this summer so it’s crazy being around them.”
Added Schneider, “Sometimes I’ll be saluting an officer and I’ll be, whoa, am I really doing this. It has become pretty normal now. The time commitment is the biggest thing. Your body can work up to how much pressure you are putting on it. I’m super-excited. I’m bonding with my team and learning to be an athlete at the college level. Sometimes high school was hard to find competition to push you to get to that next level.”
Though Sulger and Schneider are both in different surroundings, they said their middle years at Darien in the relays will remain a lifelong memory.
“I think it was an amazing experience that helped me like track more,” Sulger said. “It gave me insight into what being part of a team means.”