When Courtney Blanden found out her father accepted a promotion with Duke Energy and her family would be moving to Charlotte just before her senior year of high school began, she wasn’t too thrilled. She knew she’d have to uproot her entire life – her friends, her extracurricular activities and everything else she’d worked so hard to establish over the course of her three years at Lake Mary (Fla.) High School.
Blanden knew all that would change, and not to mention having to redefine her track career in a new school with a new coach and a vastly differently climate during her senior season – the time when major Division-1 scouts would have their eyes on hopeful future college athletes. For Blanden, everything was about to change.
Shortly after moving to North Carolina in the summer of last year, Blanden and her parents met with Jeffrey Wnek, the sprint coach at Weddington High School, to discus whether or not there would be a place for Blanden on the Warriors’ renowned track team. She ran track since her sophomore year in high school and quickly fell in love with the sport but didn’t know how the move would affect her ability to run. Questions regarding whether or not she’d fit in with the team, if the coach would like her, or if her times would even be fast enough to compete plagued her thoughts.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Blanden said. “Everything is so different and it’s definitely a lot colder here. I’m not used to that. In Florida, you can perform better because it’s a lot warmer. Here, you have to work a lot harder than you would in Florida to get the same results because the weather isn’t as suited for runners. I didn’t know how that was going to affect my times.”
At her high school in Florida, Blanden was solely a sprinter. She ran the 100-meter dash, 200 and was a leg of the 4×400 relay team and said she loved the adrenaline rush that erupted from short distances. During her junior season at Lake Mary, she had a personal best time of 12.68 seconds in the 100 meter and 26.44 in the 200 – times that would’ve secured her top 10 finishes in last year’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A state meet.
But with talented Warrior sprinters like Cyan Mercer and Tracey Weeks on the roster, Blanden knew she’d have to adjust to her new life quickly if she wanted to make an impact on the team, something that Wnek said she did almost immediately.
“I met Courtney and her parents for the first time last summer,” Wnek explained. “Immediately I had a great first impression. I had a feeling she’d make an impact on the team and she’s doing just that. She’s unbelievably talented and is proving to be a huge asset to this team.”
At Weddington’s first outdoor meet of the season on March 5 at Charlotte Latin, Blanden made a name for herself quickly. She finished first in both the 100 (12.65) and 200 (26.30), beating her times from last year’s season in Florida and proving that the transition to North Carolina couldn’t hinder her capabilities on the track.
But she didn’t stop there. Working with Wnek to improve her times over the course of the season, Blanden made her biggest splash yet at the Taco Bell Classic on April 12 at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, S.C.
In the 100, Blanden ran a swift 12.02 seconds, shaving over half a second off her time to secure a fifth-place finish from over 100 runners from across the Southeast. In the 200, Blanden cut her time by nearly two seconds, finishing in 24.62 to take fourth place. She capped off her day by running a leg of the 4×100 relay team that finished in 49.23. In each event, the speedy star broke Weddington’s school
“She had a big weekend at Taco Bell,” Wnek said. “Breaking school records in the 100 and the 200 in itself is huge but to go on and help out on the relay team and break the school record there, it really shows how talented she is.”
Despite Blanden’s hesitancies about moving to North Carolina before her final year of high school, she said it’s been a huge blessing in disguise – especially for her track career. She’s currently ranked the No. 1 runner in the NCHSAA’s Class 3A in both the 100 and 200 and has her eye set on a state title in those events – and her relays as well.
“I’m trying to get faster day by day,” she said. “At states I want to win the 100, 200, the 4×1 and either the 4×2 or 4×4. In Florida, the competition level is a lot higher and a lot of the fastest athletes in the country come out of Florida so I’ve made it to states before but haven’t placed liked I wanted to. Now, I have that opportunity.”
“I think she ought to win the 100 and 200,” her coach said. “We’ve talked about that and are focusing on things that will improve her chances of winning…. She knows that she still has states and that’s equally as challenging, if not more, than anything else she’s faced. In 3A runners, she’s ranked No. 1 right now but we’re trying to stay focused.”
Regardless of what she accomplishes at the high school level, Blanden’s move to N.C. opened up doors for her to run in college – something she’s had her eye on since her sophomore year. In the fall, she’ll gear up as a Hokie joining Virginia Tech sprint coach Charles Foster, a decision made in early April that came as somewhat of a surprise as many pegged her to return to Florida and run at Florida State University.
“At first, I was going to go to FSU and go back home,” she said. “I thought, ‘All my old friends are there, it’ll be fun and I can go back to what I know.’ But I decided to visit Virginia Tech one more time and I decided that’s where I needed to be. The coach explained to me my potential and how good I could be and it just felt right. I’ll definitely be challenged more there too.”
With her short but decorated career as a Warrior coming to a close, Blanden has one chance left to make a splash at states before competing at the next level. But after overcoming the obstacles that come with moving schools during your teenage years, Blanden said it’s only made her stronger – something that’s manifesting on the track.
“I used to run so other people would see me win,” she said. “I wanted to look like I was fast and I wanted everyone to talk about how fast I was. Now, I run for myself. I do it because I love it and because I want to win for myself regardless of what other people think.”