Dissecting cats was the order of the day in anatomy at Rochester (Rochester Hills, Mich.) for Megan Goethals, so when television cameras flooded the classroom, her face took on a countenance of half-surprise, half-confusion.
The cameras were there to record a life-changing announcement: Goethals has today been named the 2009-10 Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
"I was so surprised -- I'd been checking DyeStat.com every day and I thought sure I hadn't won the award," said Goethals, the first female athlete from Michigan ever to receive a national Gatorade award. "I saw that Lukas [Verzbicas of Sandburg (Orland Park, Ill.)] was the boys national winner last week, so I figured, 'It's not going to happen.'"
The returning 2008-09 Gatorade Michigan Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, Goethals completed an unbeaten season by winning the national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships this past fall with a time of 17:06.9. The 5-foot-8 senior also shattered her own state meet course record by 16 seconds in 16:54.8, repeating as Division 1 champion despite a stiff headwind.
Goethals, who owns six course records in the state of Michigan, added regular-season victories at the Spartan Invitational, the West Bloomfield Invitational, and the Foot Locker Midwest Regional championships in 2009. At Foot Locker, she out-leaned junior and three-time Gatorade Texas Runner of the Year Chelsey Sveinsson at the tape to produce the most exciting finish in the event's 31-year history.
Goethals, who turns 18 on July 8, has maintained a 3.5 GPA in the classroom.
A member of the National Honor Society, she has volunteered on behalf of Meals on Wheels as well as U.S. Youth Soccer TOPSoccer, a community-based training and team placement program for young athletes with disabilities.
"Goethals backed up her national title by dominating Michigan all fall and winning decisively at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional," said Steve Underwood, Senior Editor for ESPN RISE/DyeStat.com. "Her state meet victory -- a 16:54.8 in the 5K that beat a great Division 1 field by a 1:15 margin -- may have been the best state meet performance by anyone in the country."
Goethals has verbally committed to an athletic scholarship at the University of Washington this fall. She also earned Gatorade Michigan Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year honors in the spring of her junior year.
In pre-race interviews leading up to last fall's Foot Locker championships, Goethals said she was going "to expect the unexpected" from the race field and that she did not want to "rely on my kick." As it turned out, both observations were insightful in their own way.
Trailing Sveinsson by a seemingly insurmountable gap with about 200 meters of real estate left, Goethals somehow -- and very unexpectedly -- ran down Sveinsson at the tape on the strength of a withering kick.
She claims she's never run a quarter-mile under 62 seconds.
Goethals's win over Sveinsson at Foot Locker was the fourth installment in a long-standing rivalry. Goethals edged the Sveinsson in taking third at the 2008 Foot Locker nationals as a junior, then settled for runner-up to the Texan in both the mile (4:51.33) and the two-mile (10:20.35) at the Nike Outdoor Nationals last spring. Goethals won the Foot Locker regional title in each of her last two high school cross country campaigns.
Goethals's winning time at the 2009 Foot Locker nationals was 15 seconds faster than reigning Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year Jordan Hasay (Mission College Prep, San Luis Obispo, Calif.), now at Oregon, who won the same race in 2008, and 12 seconds faster than the time of the Gatorade award's inaugural cross country national winner Ashley Brasovan (Wellington High, Wellington, Fla.), who won Foot Locker nationals in 2007. Goethals's win was 22 seconds faster than the winning Foot Locker nationals' time in 2006, clocked by former Independence (Franklin, Tenn.) standout and current Stanford freshman Kathy Kroeger.
Goethals was the Emerging Elite Mile champion at the 2008 Nike Outdoor Nationals. She is also a two-time state champion in track, winning the 1600 and 3200 at last spring's Division 1 state meet, clocking the state's fastest time in both events.
Of course, for the moment, she is best remembered for the remarkable Foot Locker finish, which has become an Internet sensation. Goethals is more than ready to move past that shining moment.
"It's one race and there are a lot of races," said Goethals, who is unafraid of being defined by December's race. "I have a college career ahead of me and hopefully I'll do some things at that level. But I guess if I'm best known for that race, it's not a bad thing to be known for. I'm just thrilled with this honor."