Lauren Ping did not grow up in Arizona. She’s only been here about 21 months after moving with her family from Minnesota.
So, Arizona cross country fans are still getting to know her.
But it won’t be long before she becomes one of the best-known high school distance runners this state has seen.
Ping is a sophomore at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix. She already has two cross country state titles in the bag, and has a good chance to become one of those rare athletes that win four state championships before moving on to a college career.
Lauren and her older sister, Grace, were near-legendary in distance running circles in their home state of Minnesota. By the time she finished eighth grade, Grace was already in possession of eight world records. Lauren and Grace, who is two years older, regularly swept the top two finishes in every event they entered.
The sisters began their running careers early. When Grace was 10 years old, she set a world age-group record in the 5K of 18:02. By the time she entered seventh grade she was competing for Cotter High School in Winona, Minn. And little sister, Lauren, was watching and learning.
Since they didn’t arrive in Arizona until Grace’s junior year, she didn’t have the same opportunity as her younger sister to spend four years building a legacy for herself at Desert Vista, which has established itself as one of the top track and cross country programs in the state, and is recognized nationally as well.
The times that Lauren has already set are a good indication of where her prep career is headed. It’s difficult to compare times for cross country runners, particularly from one era to the next, because course layout and weather conditions aren’t consistent. Some courses have rolling landscape, while others offer runners a flatter surface, which can affect times.
However, general comparisons can be made, based on times. Enough to be able to group together the best runners in the sport.
Using that criteria, Ping has already put herself in the conversation that considers who might be the state’s best prep distance runner.
The most recognizable names in cross country over recent years include Sarah Fakler, a three-time cross country state champion at Xavier Prep who went on to run at University of Virginia, and Jessica Tonn, who won 14 state titles at Xavier that included two for cross country, and then became a seven-time All-American at Stanford.
But Ping is running in the shadow of another Desert Vista runner who some consider the best distance runner to come out of Arizona. Dani Jones was a nine-time state champion across cross country and track & field at Desert Vista who then went on to become a four-time NCAA champion at the University of Colorado.
Jones’ best high school cross country time was 17:26, which she posted as a senior in 2014. Fakler’s best prep time, 17:48.9, came in 2011 when she was a junior. And Tonn’s best time came in 2009 when she posted a personal record of 17:28.16 as a senior.
Now, look at Ping’s stats. She covered the course in 17:36.84 as a freshman and then shaved time off that to win her second cross country title last fall in a time of 17:13.4.
Those times certainly put her in the same conversation as the other three who came before her. And she has two more years to grow and train under some of the state’s best distance coaches.
She may eventually settle that argument about who’s the best of all time.