Published December 21. 2012 4:00AM
Whatever Brianna Lenehan plunges into, she always seems to make a big splash.
After taking up Irish dance, she became so proficient that she competed on a national level.
Growing up, she also excelled at soccer, playing for a travel team.
After giving up those two passions to focus on her love of running, she gradually ran to the front of the elite pack as a senior at Norwich Free Academy.
In the fall, Lenehan capped a terrific senior by winning the Triple Crown of cross country, capturing individual titles in the Eastern Connecticut Conference, Class LL and State Open championship meets. She also finished a personal best ninth in New England.
For her tremendous efforts, she has been named The Day's 2012 All-Area Girls' Cross Country Runner of the Year.
"Even now, when I think about how the season went, I still can't really believe everything that happened," Lenehan said. "I'm just so happy and excited. ... I didn't expect all this to happen."
Lenehan also is an excellent student. A national honor society and high honor roll member, she was recently rewarded for her hard work in the classroom, as she was accepted to prestigious Columbia University in New York.
All of her successes come as no surprise to those who know her well. Underneath her quiet, reserved exterior is an extremely determined and driven teenager.
"She's very competitive," said Patty, Brianna's mom, of the youngest of her five children.
Lenehan's competitive spirit was on display during championship events. Despite missing the invitational meets earlier in the fall due to a hip injury, Lenehan came out strong and pushed the pace from the start, forcing others to chase her.
"It was good that I rested early on," Lenehan said. "It saved me for the end."
She beat the nearest runner in the ECC race by 16 seconds. She ran the best time of any competitor at the Class championship, winning Class LL in a personal best 18:51 at the Wickham Park course in Manchester. Runner-up Hannah Debalsi of Staples trailed by 26 seconds.
With her confidence soaring, Lenehan held off RHAM's Chrissy Bendzinski in the State Open, posting a 3-second margin of victory.
Lenehan is just second NFA girls' runner to sweep both class and State Open races in the same year, joining Jill Akus who did it three times (1993, 1995, 1996).
"We've had some great runners," NFA coach Kara Kochanski-Vendola said. "For someone who says cross country is not her sport, she really has achieved a lot. ... She's come a long way. She's just a great kid and hard worker."
Lenehan considers track more her sport than cross country. She owns several school records in indoor and outdoor track.
And she's a highly respected teammate, too.
"She's a quiet leader," Kochanski-Vendola said. "She leads by example. She comes to practice on time and does everything you ask her to do and they follow her lead. She goes out and sets school records and then cheers for everyone."
It's a safe bet that Lenehan will continue to make a big splash in whatever she plunges into.
Next year, she'll take on a new challenge, competing on the collegiate level at Columbia, where she will be reunited with ex-teammate Sarah Eagan.
"I'm excited about that," Lenehan said.