PALATINE, Ill. – Perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay a young and talented college runner is that she has untapped potential. Those were the words used by Harper cross country coach Jim Macnider to describe Stephanie Chaires (Palatine, Ill./Christian Liberty), the top runner for the women's team.
After missing most of the early part of the season due to injury, Chaires is peaking at the right time. Named Runner of the Year at the Div. III level after her performance in the Region IV meet this past Saturday, she can add another award to her list of accomplishments as the eighth Harper College Athlete of the Week for the 2013-14 school year.
A First Team All-Region selection for the soccer team, Chaires ran for the track and field team in the spring. She ran a leg of the 4x800m relay team that won a national title, was a member of the 4x400m relay team that took fifth place and also captured fourth place individually in the 1500m.
Chaires ultimately decided to give up soccer for cross country because she says she's a better runner than soccer player. Despite missing the team's first three meets due to a foot injury, she has come on strong, placing as Harper's top runner in the last three meets.
"It was a little bit difficult coming back with only a little more than a month till nationals, but I knew with coach Macnider's training, I'd get back in no time," Chaires said. "Coach Macnider and Coach (Eric) Wallor are truly the best coaches I have ever had."
The Hawks run tomorrow morning at nationals in Northfield, Mass. Macnider credits Chaires for reenergizing the team.
"She should be our No. 1 runner at nationals, and I believe she can finish in the top 15," Macnider said. "Certainly this will give us a shot at finishing in the top five as a team."
Macnider also acknowledged the psychological boost she provides for the team.
"She is very encouraging to her teammates, works very hard in practice and is a great example for them," he said.
Chaires believes her team has a shot at finishing in the top three considering the strides they've made throughout the year. The nutrition major and N4C Academic All-Conference athlete is hoping her running opens up doors for scholarships down the road.
"I love the sports program here at Harper," she said. "When I transfer, I hope to keep running. I am keeping my options open."