Sept. 27, 2011
by ASU Athletics
When Carly Paracholski outpaced Shelby Houlihan in the final meters of the 2010 Dakota Relays 800-meter, it was an unusual experience for the Canadian standout. She had someone close to her at the end of a race.
Two of the top mid-distance recruits in the country last year, Paracholski and Houlihan are now getting fairly comfortable being close together. The two freshmen sleep 10 feet apart in a residence hall at Arizona State University in what might be the fastest female dorm room in the country. And both became Sun Devils, to some degree, because of each other.
"Knowing Carly was going there made me know I'd have someone to train with," said Houlihan, the best mid-distance runner in Iowa history. "She's really good and we'll make each other better."
Coming off a semi-final appearance at 800-meters at the 2010 World Junior Track & Field Championships (2:05.99) while also running a 53.8 split on the Canadian Junior record-setting 4x400-meter relay team, Paracholski reunited with Houlihan on her recruiting trip to Tempe, Ariz. The 800-meter Canadian Youth record holder from Winnipeg, Manitoba, was the first to commit after a tedious process with a few other American schools. Paracholski was impressed by ASU's honest recruiting as well as the facilities, balanced program and historical team success.
Houlihan came to Arizona State as one of the nation's blue chip recruits. She considered Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Tennessee, but decided on ASU during her stellar senior year. She won eight state titles - including cross country - and holds state records in the 800-meter (2:07.35) and 1500-meter (4:26.39) while just missing the open 400-meter record by a fraction of a second. (55.52).
"I wanted to get as many records as I could," Houlihan said of her multi-race efforts at her biggest meets of the year, including running - and winning - four events at the Iowa High School Championships and three at the Drake Relays. She also placed in the top six at the USA Junior Track & Field National Championships in both the 800m and 1500m - less than two hours apart. She was the only junior at the meet to do the double.
In her few single-competition outings, Houlihan won the 800-meter race at the Brooks Indoor PR Invite and placed fourth at the Adidas Outdoor Dream Mile in 4:43.64. She also had back-to-back Top-30 showings at the Nike Cross Country National Championships in 2009 and 2010.
"I don't think I'll be doing any meets this year with that many races," Houlihan said. "But we want to have a freshman 4x400-meter relay at a lot of meets. That event's awesome."
Houlihan's Canuck counterpart may have a substantial role for ASU's 4x400-meter relay. Trained as a sprinter in the hallways of Sisler High School during Winnipeg's long winters, Paracholski splits time between the Sun Devil sprint group and cross country as she prepares for the upcoming track season.
"I run with the cross country girls and do some workouts in the morning, but Coach (Ryan) Cole also has me do weights and fall conditioning with the sprinters right now, so I get a little bit of both," Paracholski said. "It's neat because I get to experience both groups are so good and hopefully that makes me better."
ASU women's sprint coach Kenny McDaniel is sold.
"I'm glad she's on our team," McDaniel said after one of her first track workouts with the sprint team. "That girl is good."
While the roommates' approach to the same event area has been different, Cole notices a lot of resemblances between the two young Sun Devils.
"They're both pretty low-key - a bit shy at first. But both can really catch you off guard," Cole said. "Paracholski occasionally bursts into a geyser of animated speed talking, all still enunciated very clearly, which is pretty funny, and Houlihan's off-the-cuff break dance moves are random...although they appear well-rehearsed. Like all the girls on the team, they have a lot of fun together."
But they do differ. Paracholski is regularly the team's study hall champ while Shelby is the `You're still in my office? You better be going to class,' champ pretty much every week, Cole notes.
Cole said neither has shown any hesitation about taking the lead at practice.
"Our first workout of the year was 2-mile repeats as part of our Glowstick Relay. The freshman all ran the first leg and were instructed to keep it controlled and just run together," Cole said of the workout. "By the mile, two pink glowstick streaks were all alone in the dark - Houlihan. She had 200-meters on the rest of the group. Her breathing wasn't labored and we talked normally when she went by, so I let it slide. Execution is important, but so is fearlessness."
Paracholski was a spectator for the Glowstick Relay, finishing downtime after an up-and-down summer track season due to a nagging tight hamstring. Yet, in her first session of exaggerated strides, she was leaving people behind.
"We do cut-down strides a few times per week, starting very relaxed and then learning how to stay relaxed while increasing effort and cadence. Carly P opened up 25-meters on everyone in a 120-meter stride looking effortless."
Yet, as with their personalities, Cole said there are physical differences between his two young talents as well.
"Carly P. is a gazelle. Very balanced mechanics, exceptional technique, light on her feet - a gracefully tight rubberband. Compared to Patches [Cole's Dodgeball movie reference nickname for Houlihan], Carly's the velvet hammer; a featherweight boxing champ throwing rapidly smooth jabs that you're helpless against. Houlihan is a little pitbull ball of muscle. She's a one-punch roundhouse that just knocks your teeth out."
Regardless of relentless jabs or knockout hooks, opponents of Arizona State will be taking some painful blows on the track in the mid-distance events over the next few years. Compliments of two fast roommates.