WINTHROP — Despite setting a personal record at this year’s state meet, races are Haley Williams’ least favorite part of the cross country season.

Winthrop’s Haley Williams runs in the Class C cross country state championship race on Nov. 4 at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. Williams, a senior, placed sixth. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I do not like running meets at all, I do not like races,” Williams said. “I would way rather run by myself than run with 200 other girls. It’s definitely the stress and the pressure, it’s like I have a thing in my brain now that every time I see a starting line and the gun, I just automatically get anxious looking at it.”

Despite that, the Winthrop senior ran an impressive 19:33.75 to place sixth at the Class C state meet on Nov. 4, and won the Mountain Valley Conference championship a few weeks earlier. She also has been chosen as the 2023 Sun Journal All-Region Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.

Williams said despite the mindset challenges across her senior season, she has offers to run at the collegiate level and is heavily considering pursuing them.

“I really am interested in running in college,” Williams said. “But my main focus is I want to become an RN, and I want to finish my schooling and stuff. If I can do cross country and get my schooling, then I would definitely do that.”

Ed Van Tassel, who has coached track and cross country for the Ramblers for the past 20 years, said Williams didn’t join the team until her sophomore year, but she now holds the school record for fastest meet pace, set at this year’s state meet.


“Certainly, from a time perspective, she’s certainly setting a high bar for those future generations to shoot at,” Van Tassel, also Winthrop’s track and field coach, said. “She’s planning on running track this spring, so that’ll certainly help her cement her legacy. Even without that, she’s definitely put down the best results of any Winthrop cross country girl that I can recall.”

Williams thinks Van Tassel will have her running the mile, 2-mile or the 800-meter this spring, which will be her first track season after playing softball the past few years. She originally came to Winthrop as a field hockey player, but quickly turned to running as a stress reliever amidst stress caused by school.

“I kind of like running by myself; I like how I feel,” Williams said. “It’s almost like a relief. I come home from school, maybe I have a bunch of work to do, and I just feel so stressed out. I’ll go for a run and then I’ll feel so much better after.”

After deciding to run cross country “out of the blue” her sophomore year, Williams said she absolutely fell in love with the sport.

“I ended up breaking my school record that year, and I made so many different friendships,” Williams said. “I met so many people along the way, and I feel like without cross country, in my high school years, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”

One of her closest friendships is with current Ramblers teammate Grace Drown. Williams and Drown, a sophomore, share a pre-race ritual of praying together before every meet.


“She’s kind of like a mini me and she gets super anxious, too, before races and stuff, and it always makes us feel better,” Williams said. “We will tell ourselves that it’s going to be over quick. We’re going to do our best, like, we got this, ya know? That really helps.”

Van Tassel said Williams’ friendships with her teammates is something the team will miss most when she graduates in May. He said she’s a great teammate who leads by example, first and foremost, but she also works hard to connect with every person on the team.

“It’s hard coaching high school, because you know that in a couple years, those kids that are so close to the underclassmen and so close to you, you know, and they’re moving on,” Van Tassel said. “It’s been great for the opportunities that she’s had, but it’s also been great for the program to let the other kids see the opportunities that are out there.”

Winthrop’s Haley Williams runs during the Festival of Champions in September in Belfast. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Williams said Van Tassel was her biggest supporter and motivator, because he showed her how well she could run, while pushing her to get better each season.

“He cares so much about every single one of his runners, and he has something good (to say) about every single one of his runners, even if they’re not top seven,” Williams said. “He’s someone that is always there for you, too, and he’s an amazing coach. I feel like he had a lot to do with my running career.”

Williams said she’ll most miss the team dynamic, because everyone is “just so supportive of everyone,” and “fun to be around.” She said her teammates make her laugh every single bus ride, every practice and every meet, and that’s something she will always remember.

Williams’ Winthrop athletic career is not done yet, as she is playing basketball this winter and then will run track in the spring. While she won’t be sprinting the last straightaway — her favorite part — at a cross country meet, she hopes to add a few more school records to her Winthrop High School legacy on the track.

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