By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Simply put, Haley Durning is the epitome of a true student/athlete. The Kearny High School senior handles both her academics and athletics with aplomb.
As a student, Durning is ranked No. 2 in the Kearny High Class of 2013. She owns an amazing 5.01 grade point average and scored 1,840 on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests.
As an athlete, Durning’s resume is as equally impressive.
In the fall, Durning was the standout goalkeeper for the Kearny girls’ soccer team. She became a goalie for the Kardinals as a junior and developed so much in net that she was named the Hudson County Defensive Player of the Year and earned First Team All- Hudson County honors.
As a track athlete, Durning has literally done everything. She’s a standout hurdler and high jumper, but she also competes in anything from the 200-meter dash to the 800-meter run. She also competes in the long jump in the spring.
“It’s very rare to find someone who can do everything she does,” Kearny head coach Al Perez said. “I think that speaks for her athleticism. It’s also speaks for her intellect, because she took the time to learn all the different events. It’s a big luxury to have, knowing that when you get to the track, Haley’s going to be in four events. We might not know the events, but we can count on her for four. It’s definitely a luxury to have.”
Durning doesn’t mind all the responsibilities she has on the track.
“I like doing all the events, because it keeps things interesting,” Durning said. “I would have been bored if I knew what I was doing before a meet or if I did just one event. I practice every event at least three times a week, so when I get thrown into another event, I’m ready.”
Durning also likes to compete in relay meets.
“I like being part of relay teams, because there are three others in the same event,” Durning said. “I think that’s the best part of track.”
Durning certainly liked her part in the Hudson County Relays Championships last week at the Jersey City Armory.
Durning helped Kearny to win the 4×400-meter relay and the high jump relay, while helping the Kardinals to finish second in the shuttle hurdles relay and third in the sprint medley relay.
Durning was in part of 36 of Kearny’s 59 team points, as the Kards finished second to St. Dominic Academy for team honors.
For her efforts, Durning has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Durning cleared the bar at 5-feet even, the top performance of any female competitor at the Armory.
“I like the high jump the best,” Durning said. “It’s the most stressful. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. I am excited about the way I’m going right now. I hope to get to 5-foot-6 on the high jump before the end of the season. I’m going to try a little harder so I can break the school record in the high jump and the hurdles.”
The person who holds those two records? None other than Durning herself.
Durning recalls the dilemma she was faced with in 2011, when she was ready to begin her junior year in soccer.
“When I was a freshman and a sophomore, I played center forward,” Durning said. “I was ready to get my chance to score goals. But we played Scotch Plains that year to start the season and we got killed. I had been fooling around a couple times playing goal and bought a pair of goalie gloves. I had them with me when we played Scotch Plains. I told Coach (Vin) Almeida that I would go in at goal and we went from there.”
Durning remained in goal for the rest of the last two seasons, leading the Kardinals to consecutive Hudson County Tournament championships.
But it’s as a track athlete where Durning really shines.
“She’s just a great athlete,” Perez said. “She pretty much can do everything. She can do every jumping event and the hurdles. She also helps with sprints, runs and relays. I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone quite like Haley. She certainly falls into the conversation of the most diversified athlete we’ve ever had.”
Perez also likes Durning’s demeanor.
“She doesn’t complain about anything,” Perez said. “We were actually thinking of her running the 800 (meters), because she’s able to do it. We might enter her in pentathlon events later this year. It’s something we’re working on. But if we tell her to do something, Haley does it. She’s a good kid and she’s mature. It makes it easy to coach her. She has a great personality and gets along with everyone.”
Perez also likes Durning’s leadership capabilities.
“I called her ‘Mother Duck,’ because you should see the younger girls walk in a row right behind her,” Perez said.
“We have a lot of younger kids who constantly ask questions,” Durning said. “They ask, `Where do I go? What do I do?’ I have to answer them. Coach Perez actually quacks at the younger ones that are behind me. I don’t mind the name. I think it started because I got some of the soccer players to join track.”
Durning believes that her soccer skills help in preparing for the track season.
“Soccer definitely helps me in track,” Durning said. “People think that track is an individual sport, but it’s actually the best team sport. We’re all in it together. I get in tiptop shape for track because of soccer.”
Durning is unsure about her future, both academically and athletically.
“I don’t know what I want to do about college, but I’ll go where my academics take me,” Durning said. “I won’t know if I’m able to play or able to run track there.”
Durning has applied to Lehigh, Vanderbilt and the University of Richmond in her pursuit to major in engineering.
For now, she’ll continue to burn up the track for the Kardinals. “I definitely do this is the beginning of what could be a great season,” Durning said.
Sure looks that way.