By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
For most student-athletes making the transition from small high school to a major Division I college, there will be challenges and adjustments.
It was no different for Anna Sophia Keller.
There was the classroom, greater competition, injuries, even a brand new event.
And ice cream?
“I have to improve my eating habits,” Anna Sophia admitted. “I’m probably the most unhealthy eater on my team. And it doesn’t help having an ice cream machine in our dining hall. I just like sweets. And chocolate. I had to learn to cut down on those things. Thankfully, I’ve gotten better at that.”
Anna Sophia is home until June 18 when she resumes classes at the University of Notre Dame. She is majoring in design with a business economics minor. She is the daughter of Chuck Jr. and Fanny Mae Keller and a 2017 graduate of St. Anthony High School.
After a remarkable high school career that included 11 state championships – four in cross country, four in the 1600-meter run and three in the 3200-meter run – Anna Sophia selected Notre Dame over a host of other major colleges that were recruiting her heavily.
The 19-year-old said it is academically challenging.
“Notre Dame is one of the top universities in the country,” she noted. “But St. Anthony prepared me pretty well. I’m very appreciative of that.”
Anna Sophia said the class sizes ranged from 15 to 130. She indicated her hardest class was Calculus.
“For scholarship athletes, there are specific study halls we’re expected to attend,” she explained. “Mine met from 7-10 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. You’re required to be there at least two hours. And if you need help, tutors are provided.”
Anna Sophia lives in Flaherty Hall on campus. She said many of the buildings look so similar, it was difficult to find the ones she needed at first.
But she’s adjusted. And made friends – in her dorm, the study hall and the teams she’s part of.
Her athletic career started last fall when she joined the Fighting Irish cross country squad. She was part of a 17-person roster and immediately became one of the top five runners.
In high school, the distance was three miles. At the collegiate level, it’s a 6K, which is a little less than four miles.
But that wasn’t the only adjustment.
“Everybody was significantly faster, although I expected that,” Anna Sophia said.
Anna Sophia was Notre Dame’s No. 2 runner for part of the season and was one of the team’s top five runners throughout.
“I train a little differently than the rest of the team,” she explained. “I still swim and bike a lot. Plus, most people work out twice a week. I work out three times most weeks.”
There was also some adjusting to do when the race began.
“I remember the first race. It was just so crowded,” Anna Sophia recalled. “There could be as many as 300 to 400 runners at the starting line. You have to be strong, claim your space and get out fast. I sprinted the first 100 meters and then settled in. You get a lot of elbows thrown at you. I have a few battle scars.
“In high school, one person was going to win and everybody usually knew who that was going to be,” she added. “In college, there is a large pack of talented runners.”
Anna Sophia said runners’ times in college don’t matter because the courses are all so different.
Prior to the Atlantic Coast Conference meet, she did have to deal with planters fasciitis.
“It was super painful,” she admitted. “I didn’t even warm up. I just started the race. I knew it wouldn’t get any worse if I ran out it. Plus, the way I run actually stretches it out and helps it a little. But it was still my worst race of the season.”
Anna Sophia also competed on the Notre Dame indoor and outdoor track teams. During the indoor season, she primarily ran the mile and 3,000 meters (which is a little less than two miles).
She ran the mile at the ACC meet. Her time of 4:48.2 in the prelims qualified her for the finals as the No. 7 seed. She then ran 4:50.0 in the finals and finished ninth.
Notre Dame’s distance medley relay squad qualified for the national indoor meet in College Station, Texas, after turning in the 12th fastest time in the country. The team’s top 1600-meter runner was injured, so Anna Sophia was selected to run the 1600-meter leg. Notre Dame entered as the No. 12 seed and finished 12th in the race.
“It was special for me to run at the national meet as a freshman,” she said. “It was the most nervous I’ve ever been before a race.”
Anna Sophia was slated to run the 1,500-meter event during outdoor track season. But she also talked her coach into letting her try a brand new event – the 3K Steeplechase.
“I started begging my coach to let me try that event back during cross country season,” she said. “I just had to figure out how to jump the steeples (hurdles).”
The race is seven laps and includes four regular steeples and one water jump on each lap.
“The most challenging is the water jump,” Anna Sophia admitted. “It is so much more difficult. I don’t really enjoy the water jump. You get pretty much drenched.”
Despite being just 5’2”, Anna Sophia said her height didn’t affect her.
“I know I’m not very tall, but if you’re running fast enough, you can hurdle it and not just jump it,” she noted. “I enjoyed it a lot. The first time I ran it was at Louisville and I ended up doing pretty well. I’m hoping next year the coach will let me do the 5K and the Steeplechase.”
She ran both events at the ACC meet. She didn’t perform especially well, but then found out why.
She had mononucleosis.
“I knew something wasn’t right,” Anna Sophia noted. “I did OK with the shorter runs in practice, but during the longer runs, my legs would just die at a certain point. I didn’t know I was sick at the time. But when I found out, it all made sense. I’m just glad to know what it was.”
In August, Anna Sophia will report to cross country camp to begin preparing for her sophomore season.
She has learned a lot.
“I know I need to work ahead more on my studies and stop asking for extensions,” she pointed out. “We do a lot of papers each semester and I had a habit of postponing writing them. I started figuring things out and did much better the second semester.”
Anna Sophia is also looking forward to showing improvement with her running.
“The coaches expected me to do better than I did last year,” she admitted. “They saw how I ran in high school and expected me to run better. I’m eating better, I’ve gained a little weight and I’m figuring things out. Plus, I have a very good relationship with my coach.
“We have some talented runners coming back and some good recruits coming in,” Anna Sophia added. “I’m excited about our teams. Notre Dame has very good programs.”