Bugsy Hammerton, who runs for St. Dom’s Academy, poses at the edge of the Bates College indoor track on Wednesday. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — Alexandra Hammerton had to make a choice, and it wasn’t going to be easy.

Known as Bugsy — short for the nickname “Lady Bug” her father gave her when she was young — Hammerton played ice hockey for St. Dominic Academy as a freshman and sophomore, the latter season coming after her first season of cross country running. She fell in love with running, and found that ice hockey didn’t condition her for outdoor track as much as she wanted.

“I started with hockey but then I realized I enjoyed running more, so I wanted to keep running,” Hammerton said.

After a solid junior campaign running cross country, Hammerton again started training with the hockey team, but stopped short.

“I did it for just a week,” Hammerton said. “I had a pretty good season in cross country and I realized I didn’t want to stop running in the winter. I remember last year, when I started outdoor, the transition was really rough, I was dead all the time. So I figured it would be better to run.”

After just a week of hockey this winter, Hammerton opted to join the indoor track and field team for the first time. Her coach, TJ Niles, was going to be content with whichever sport she chose.

“My message to her and the whole time has been to do what makes you happy,” Niles said. “I told her, ‘I don’t want you to do indoor track and be upset that you chose this over hockey.’ The team has sent her the same message that we don’t care what you do. If you’re here, awesome. If not, we will see you outdoors.”

Hammerton’s choice paid off. The junior earned a second-place finish in the 800-meter run and a third-place finish in the 200-meter run at the Western Maine Conference championship meet on Saturday. While she ran in the 800 and 200 at the conference championship, Hammerton will be running in the 400-meter and the 4×200-meter races at the state meet this Saturday at Bates College.

“The 400 is my favorite,” Hammerton said. “It’s not too long and it’s not too short, and you still have a little bit of room to work with in the race. In the 200, you go all out all the time, and that’s the end of it. In the 800, my hip acts up a lot and it’s really frustrating. But since the 400 is more sprint-like, I don’t feel my hip as much.”

Hammerton has dealt with her hip injury for two years, since it happened during hockey as a freshman. Because of the injury, and with the 800- and 400-meter runs being back-to-back in the meet schedule, Hammerton chose the 400, where she is seeded second behind Camille Kohtala of Orono.

“I gave her a choice,” Niles said. “I think it’s important that kids have a choice … We looked at where she was ranked highest and weighed the pros and cons and ultimately I asked her what she wanted to run. I made it up to her, and she likes the 400. And with her hip, she saw the 400 as her best chance to place the highest.”

Cross country has become Hammerton’s favorite sport. It also led to her affinity for the running sports in the winter and spring.

“I didn’t run at all before cross country, but it went really well,” Hammerton said. “Then it was hockey, and I realized I kind of missed running. The reason I did outdoor was because there were three seniors on the cross country team that I had become really good friends with and were graduating, so I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll do track and spend more time with them.’ Then, it turned into, ‘Oh, you qualified for states. Oh, you won the 200 and you’re going to New Englands.’ That was not the intention, but it was pretty cool.”

A similar situation faces the Saints’ runner on Saturday. Hammerton has a good chance at qualifying for the New England High School Championships on March 3 at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston.

After trips to the chiropractor, Hammerton is feeling positive about her hip and her racing future. Choosing to compete in indoor track has helped, too.

“Right now I am already more fit and faster than I was last outdoor, so that’s exciting,” Hammerton said. “Going into it, I think the transition will be a lot smoother and I won’t be trying to keep up like I was because they were tough last year.”

Hammerton owns indoor track school records in the 400- and 800-meter runs as well as part of the 4×200-meter relay. The Saints’ track team has grown from four athletes last winter to 12 this year, which has done wonders for team chemistry and school involvement. Each record the team breaks — a common occurrence these days — is broadcast on the St. Dom’s announcements on Mondays. 

“Everyone’s so positive and everyone’s always laughing,” Hammerton said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Ultimately, Hammerton is at peace with her choice. Aside from the fun team atmosphere that St. Dom’s has cultivated, the sports emphasis on self-reliance is one of her favorite aspects.

“If you have anyone to blame it’s yourself,” Hammerton said. “You can’t blame your teammates and no one can blame you. It’s very individual, and I like it.”