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Prep cross country: Saugus' Stephanie Bulder, finishing touch

A great senior season has placed Bulder among Saugus’ great runners

Posted: November 25, 2010 9:20 p.m.
Updated: November 26, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Saugus senior Stephanie Bulder has been a scoring member for the past two state champions, but her work this season has really put her among the school’s greats. She was the Foothill League champion and CIF-Southern Section Division II runner-up. Saugus senior Stephanie Bulder has been a scoring member for the past two state champions, but her work this season has really put her among the school’s greats. She was the Foothill League champion and CIF-Southern Section Division II runner-up.
Saugus senior Stephanie Bulder has been a scoring member for the past two state champions, but her work this season has really put her among the school’s greats. She was the Foothill League champion and CIF-Southern Section Division II runner-up.
Saugus senior Stephanie Bulder has saved her best season for last, winning the Foothill League individual title and finishing as runner-up at the CIF-Southern Section Division II finals at. Mt. San Antonio College. Saugus senior Stephanie Bulder has saved her best season for last, winning the Foothill League individual title and finishing as runner-up at the CIF-Southern Section Division II finals at. Mt. San Antonio College.
Saugus senior Stephanie Bulder has saved her best season for last, winning the Foothill League individual title and finishing as runner-up at the CIF-Southern Section Division II finals at. Mt. San Antonio College.
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A cross country runner’s closing kick can be a big weapon, or it can be a liability.

Stephanie Bulder isn’t sure what to make of hers.

“I don’t know if my kick is the best part of my race,” she says.

Regardless of whether or not she ends races strongly, one thing’s for sure: Bulder’s ending her career that way.

The Saugus senior has turned in her finest season yet this fall, and she may be running herself into the pantheon of great Saugus runners.

As selfless as she is talented, Bulder isn’t interested in ranking herself on that list. So allow her head coach to do it for her.

“She’s one of the top four runners we’ve ever had,” says Rene Paragas, who puts her on the level of 2008 graduate Katie Dunn.

The only thing lacking from Bulder’s resume, Paragas says, is a signature individual title, like the state championship that both teammate Kaylin Mahoney and former standout Shannon Murakami have. She could get it this Saturday, when she and her teammates will try to win their fifth state title in a row at the CIF State Cross Country Championships in Fresno.

But Bulder’s collection of performances from this season has already opened a lot of eyes. She overpowered the rest of the field to win the Foothill League individual title, leading the race the entire way. She was second overall in the non-sweepstakes race at the 2010 Mt. San Antonio College Invitational, and she finished second at the CIF-Southern Section Division II finals this past weekend.

It’s not like she was invisible the past couple seasons, either. She was a scorer for Saugus’ last two state champions, including a 10th-place individual finish last year, and she was sixth overall in the Southern Section as a junior.

So why has Bulder been the strongest late in her career, a rarity for female cross country runners given the way their bodies develop?

“I haven’t done anything different, so to speak,” Bulder says. “I’m just being healthy and strong and stuff like that, staying mentally ready for anything.”

Perhaps, then, it has to do with the way she started her running career.

Like a lot of the other Centurions, Bulder didn’t run cross country growing up. Instead, her sport of choice was swimming, which helped develop her athletic ability and cardiovascular threshold.

During the second semester of her eighth-grade year, Bulder became friends with Merissa Kado, who now runs for Saugus as well.

The two of them didn’t want to take physical education, so they decided to try something else.

“We decided to sign up for cross country because we didn’t want to do P.E.,” Bulder says. “We just thought we could run, not because it was an easy thing, but it didn’t require throwing a ball around and hand-eye coordination and that kind of thing.”

When Bulder and Kado came out for cross country as freshmen at Saugus, Paragas says they didn’t distinguish themselves right away.

Heck, Paragas admits he couldn’t even tell them apart.

“I thought Merissa and Stephanie were the same person,” he says. “I didn’t say, ‘Hey, (Bulder’s) going to be a champion one day. Far from it.”

At the Seaside Invitational that year, Bulder ran the fourth-fastest time among Saugus’ freshman class. That result might not stand out, but it was respectable considering the depth and ability of the class.

Still, Bulder started off running shorter distances at practice, something Paragas believes helped her excel later in her career.

“She started off very, very conservatively,” he says. “That gave her a lot of room to grow.”

Bulder took a big step forward with the track team her freshman year. She ran the 3,200-meter for the junior varsity team and won almost every race, so when the league finals came around, the coaches put her with the varsity girls in the event.

They told her to try to stay with the lead runners for the first six laps, and then do what she wanted with the last two.

“Those two laps were the hardest I could ever imagine,” Bulder says.

But she beat everyone else except her own teammates, which gave her the confidence she could run with the best. She turned that into successful sophomore and junior campaigns running with the varsity cross country team.

When this season began, Mahoney was out with an injury for the first couple months of the season, so Paragas looked to Bulder for leadership.

“We said, ‘Look, you have to step up and be the leader and set the pace in the workouts,’” he says. “Now she doesn’t have to wait for anybody. She doesn’t have to follow anybody. We told her, ‘you’ve got to take command,’ and she’s carried the burden for much of the season.”

The Centurions have reaped the benefits.

Bulder is a legitimate frontline talent, a runner who deftly blends strength with speed.

She’ll take the course at Woodward Park on Saturday with a chance to win another state title and compete for an individual title.

Those would be the final few steps in what’s become a tremendous closing kick to her career.

Even if she doesn’t know how to explain her actual kick.

“It’s like you’ve gone through the whole race with your best stuff,” Bulder says, “and now, if you’ve gotten this far, there’s no backing down.”

She certainly hasn’t.

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