Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier File Photo
Anna Zaeske races for Los Altos High last season. The senior specializes in the 200- and 400-meter dashes.
By Pete Borello
The season Los Altos High sprinter Anna Zaeske envisioned – setting a school record or two and qualifying for the finals of the state track and field championships – didn’t happen. The coronavirus pandemic made sure of that.
But the senior will run again. Zaeske is bound for Baltimore after committing to Johns Hopkins University, which has winter and spring track seasons.
“I’m very excited,” the Los Altos resident said. “They have an indoor season in the winter, and I’ve never had that before. It will give me a chance to try out different events, because the track is shorter and there are different types of races.”
Zaeske primarly ran the 200- and 400-meter dashes at Los Altos and was also a member of the Eagles’ 4x400 relay team. A varsity athlete since her freshman year, Zaeske qualified for the state meet the past two seasons and the Central Coast Section finals the past three years.
Zaeske seemed on her way to another stellar season this spring, excelling in Los Altos’ one and only meet.
“I was happy with my performance,” she said of the March 4 meet at Homestead. “I ran a 59 (second) split in the 400 relay and ran a good time in the 200. It was exciting and promising.”
Zaeske, who trains with the Fox Athletics track club in the offseason, was looking to make school history this year. She had her sights set on the 200 and 400 records.
“One of the disappointments of the season being cut short was that I didn’t get to grab those records,” said Zaeske, who came 0.13 seconds shy of the 200 record her sophomore year by running a 25.51 at the league finals. “That was definitely one of my goals this year – that and getting to the finals at state.”
Dave Barth – Zaeske’s high school and club coach since she was a freshman – left little doubt that those records were within her reach this year.
“There is no way to know for sure what would have happened on the track this season, but I think it’s safe to assume after watching Anna work out and prepare for meets that both the 200 and 400 school records had a strong shot of being broken,” he said.
Zaeske has already earned one place in the school record book. She anchored the 4x400 relay team that set the school record a year ago in the state meet preliminaries. She combined forces with Jessie Bourgan, Jessie Carlson and Thea Mollerstedt to run the race in 3 minutes, 52.47 seconds. Topping a record that stood for 36 years ranks as the highlight of Zaeske’s high school career.
“That was the standout moment for me,” she said. “We didn’t predict we’d break it by 2 seconds and that each of us would run a PR (personal record) split by 1 second. It was such a great atmosphere, and team vibe was so close knit and together.”
While Zaeske enjoys running the relay, it’s not her favorite event.
“It’s the 400, which is very unusual,” she said. “It’s a painful race, but I like how rewarding it is when you do really well. You have to train hard, and it’s a physically and mentally challenging race.”
Zaeske added that “the 200 is actually a close second favorite, because I can use my speed from the end of the 400 to help me out.”
Zaeske isn’t doing much sprinting these days, thanks to the coronavirus restrictions, but she isn’t sitting on the couch all day, either.
“I’m working out as much as I can,” she said. “I run in the hills and on trails; it’s difficult to go to a track, because only a few of them are open. At home, I do strength training.”
None of it compares with training with her team at Los Altos, though.
“What I miss most is the team aspect and the social aspect, and we how push each other at practice,” Zaeske said. “I also miss the coaches and talking to them.”
Zaeske’s summer plans have also changed – the family trip to Alaska is off and a road trip with friends has been postponed – but she’s holding out hope that school will start on time in late August and that Los Altos will be able to have an in-person graduation ceremony before then.
“I hope that happens – it would be a nice surprise,” said Zaeske, who picked up her diploma Thursday. “I’m trying to stay positive.”