Getting to the starting line for Saturday’s 2A state cross country championship race is Stephanie Schappert’s first goal. Staying on her feet through the two-loop, 5-kilometer course comes in a close second.
Those may seem like modest goals for the talented sophomore from Boca Raton Pope John Paul II, who enters the meet ranked third in the FACA 2A individual standings despite posting the fastest time (18:03), but they are very real.
Schappert’s budding freshman campaign was cut short by a potent case of the flu on the eve of the state cross country championship meet.
“We made the trip, hoping that it was a 24-hour flu,” said Schappert, who qualified for the 2007 championship with a seventh-place regional finish. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t and I had to watch from the stands.”
It was a disappointing conclusion to the season for the first-year runner, whose family lineage is synonymous with running success, but unfortunately, it wouldn‘t be her last. Six months later, the blonde-tasseled youngster was knocked to the ground in both the 1600- and 800-meter events at the state track championship, denying likely medal stand finishes.
In both instances, Schappert dusted herself, got back up and finished; a show of competitiveness that has become increasingly evident during a breakthrough second season.
Come Saturday, she should be in the thick of the battle for top 2A honors with Immokalee’s Joanne Pierre, Fernandina Beach’s Stephanie Strasser and Shelby Kitrell and Bishop Kenny’s Sarah Davis. And if the race comes down to a closing surge up the long finishing incline, Schappert’s natural speed (2:17 800 PR) and pedigree could push her over the top.
Talent and toughness runs deep in the Schappert family genes, beginning with her father Ken. Consistently ranked among the nation’s top 800-meter runners in the mid-70s following a stellar running career at powerhouse Villanova, he would later have a hand in turning Delray Beach Atlantic into a state power, where his charges included the Jefferson twins - John and Sean - and his son (Stephanie‘s brother) Kenny.
Then came sister Nicole, who counted back-to-back state cross country titles (’03-04) among 10 state championships for Pope John Paul II.
Kenny continued his running career at Tennessee, while Nicole has transferred from Wake Forest to Villanova, where she is competing as an unattached runner during a red shirt season.
“My brother, sister and I are so close,” Stephanie said. “They’re my best friends. We talk so much. … We always want each other to excel.”
Naturally, most people assumed she would follow in the footsteps of her siblings. At least that’s what she heard when attending meets with her father and sister.
“Are you another Schappert? Are you going to run? Are you going run as fast as she did?” she said, recalling the comments she heard.
Ken Schappert wasn’t so sure his daughter would follow suit, and he never pressed the issue. She swam competitively through seventh grade, which was the sport of choice for her mother Jane, who is enshrined in the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame for her prowess in the pool.
“I didn’t even really think about (running) until the summer before my freshman year,” said Stephanie Schappert. “I always thought I would end up running. What really drove me toward it was I saw my brother and sister excel in it, and the friends and relationships they made.”
Competitively, she made a strong early impression, with a 19:27 PR during her freshman cross country season, which she followed up in the spring with a 5:06 1600-meter time en route to victory at the Golden South meet.
Though she no longer swims competitively, it has come in handy as a cross-training, cardio alternative.
“It definitely helps me now, because I have that background,” she said. “If I don’t feel really good or I‘m sore, I can jump in pool the get in between 2000 and 3000 (meters).”
Schappert began building the foundation for her sophomore campaign in earnest with a summer trip to Asheville, N.C. for the Nike camp, which she characterized as, “one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
She arrived with only three weeks of a low-mileage (approximately 28 miles) training under foot. “I kind of bounced up to 40 miles and really didn’t know it,” she said.
It didn’t take Schappert long to go from the ranks of little-known to 2A title contender once the season got underway. In successive meets - flrunners.com Invitational 9, Pre-State and the PBCAC South/Boca City Championship - she lowered her PR from 18:35 to 18:21 to 18:03.
Perhaps most importantly, she “fell in love” with the Little Everglades Ranch course that will serve as her final testing ground of the high school season on Saturday.
That love affair was cemented during her hard-charging, third place finish behind Kathryn Fluehr (Community School of Naples) and Lily Williams (Chiles) in the Pre-State elite race, when she dusted off early leader Juliana Stern (Satellite) in the last half-mile.
“I’d absolutely love to get the state title this year,” said Schappert. “If I don’t, it’s no big deal, but I’m going to definitely leave it all out there.”