When Emma Madgic arrived at Aragon, she had a tough choice to make.

Because of a Peninsula Athletic League rule limiting its athletes to playing one sport per season, Madgic had to weight her lifelong passion for swimming against the prospect of excelling at track and field as a distance runner. Swimming was her favorite. Being as she had a foothold in the water on the club swimming circuit, though, she opted to go the track route in high school.

This choice came much to the delight of Aragon cross-country and track distance coach Frank Hunt.

“I’m glad she picked running,” Hunt said. “I’m sure the swim coach at Aragon is sad she didn’t pick swimming. If it was allowed she could do two sports, she’d be swimming as well.”

Now just midway through her junior year, Madgic is racking up the accolades. And being named Daily Journal Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year just adds to an already impressive resume.

In taking third place at the Central Coast Section Division II championships this season, she advanced to the state championships for the third straight year. She joined elite company as just the third Aragon runner — along with Lauren Croshaw (class of 2011) and Nicole Portley (class of 1998) — to do so, and next year has the opportunity to become the first Don to reach the state meet four times.

With her CCS bronze medal, Madgic was also the top non-senior finisher. So, fittingly, she earned the prestigious honor as the CCS Junior Runner of the Year.

“To be named the Junior of the Year in CCS … think about all the runners in the CCS,” Hunt said. “That’s a pretty good group. … So, yes, that’s a pretty nice achievement.”

With CCS gold medalist Serena Myjer of Mountain View and silver medalist Joyce Shea of Gunn both seniors, Madgic’s standing bodes well for next season. Dare she dream of Aragon gold, last brought home by Croshaw in 2011?

“I definitely think I have a chance, especially with the two people who beat me being seniors, to be a CCS champion next year,” Madgic said. “But I know I can’t take that for granted.”

If she works as hard as she did in earning bronze this season, going gold stands as a very attainable goal. Although, at the Nov. 11 race at Toro Park in Salinas, Madgic nearly saw the bronze slip away when Presentation senior Paige Comiso went racing past her with a half mile to go.

At the time, Madgic wasn’t sure she could make up the ground. But she kept Komiso in her sights. Then, some keen pre-race scouting and a good, old-fashioned runner’s kick of adrenaline inside the last quarter mile allowed the Aragon superstar to overtake third place.

“I was exhausted so I just let her go,” Madgic said. “I was really hurting. But going into the last 300 (meters), there’s a playground just before the finish we had tracked before ... so started to sprint from there.”

Prior to the race, Madgic and her teammates effectively scouted the course at Toro Park. And the small playground of a swing set and slide, just to the right of the course’s final straightaway, seemed a reliable signpost. Using the GPS on her watch, Madgic measured the distance from the playground to the finish line at 300 meters.

With this, while bearing down at Comiso’s back nearing the homestretch, she was able to map precisely how much distance she could make up. Then there was the motivational factor — a voice in the back of Madgic’s head, if you will. Also prior to the race, the junior team leader of the Lady Dons took it upon herself to give a pre-race speech. The theme of her pep talk? Leave everything you’ve got on the course as to not let down the team.

“I had told everyone so I didn’t want to be a hypocrite,” Madgic said.

Fatigued as she was, Madgic focused on staying light on her feet. And while, yes, she is a dedicated distance runner, she chased down Comiso with a sprinter’s burst, passing her opponent with 200 meters to go and holding her off to the finish, taking bronze with a time of 18 minutes, 53.4 seconds.

“She stayed with me a couple seconds and she faded back,” Madgic said. “And I sprinted on.”

At the state meet Nov. 25 at Woodward Park in Fresno, Madgic settled for 43rd place out of 195 runners in the Division II race. She did, however, maintain her CCS standing with the third fastest time of anyone from the section. And with her time of 19:02.9, she qualified for the Footlocker West Regionals, travelling to Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut to participate in the eight-state field for the first time in her career.

“I was definitely really excited,” Madgic said. “I did get a cold right after state … so I was still a little under the weather. I knew I didn’t have a chance to make nationals. But I wanted to compete against some of the best runners in the nation.”

Looking forward, Madgic talks about her senior season like she has some unfinished business. This isn’t a personal ambition, but a team goal. Another one of Madgic’s claims to fame came two years ago when, as a freshman, she led the Aragon girls to the state finals, as a team, for the first time in school history. And with sophomore Sydney Hou, junior Beata Gold and freshman Niyati Reddy all slated to return, Madgic has high hopes of filling out the five-runner roster and returning the Dons to the state championship stage.

“I’m definitely really excited,” Madgic said. “One of our goals as a team is to make it to state together. The girls only made it once before. So, we want to make it there together.”

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