If you had asked Taylor and Paige Stepanski in junior high school what their plans would be when it came time for college, running track might have been one of the last things they mentioned.
"We hated running. We didn't like anything about running," Paige said. "That was the worst season of the year. It was a thing we decided to do together. People always told us we were fast when we were younger, but we were like, 'OK, we'll just do track.'"
Fast forward several years later and the Stepanski sisters are two of the main cogs in an impressive group of veterans for the Alpena girls track team.
News Photo by James Andersen
Alpena track runners Taylor Stepanski, left, and Paige Stepanski, pose with Alpena track coach Collin Riffert on Thursday at Alpena High School. The Stepanski sisters both signed letters of intent to run with Saginaw Valley State University next season.
Not only have they fallen in love with running, but they will also keep running next season as both of them have received scholarships to Saginaw Valley State University.
"It feels pretty good. I didn't think that I would be here my freshman year, so it's pretty cool to see how everything got put together," Taylor said. "I'm really excited."
The Stepanskis are part of a group of three Alpena runners who have signed with schools this year after Emily McAnsh signed with Western Michigan University in February.
In addition to having the chance to run in college, going to Saginaw Valley will give Taylor and Paige the opportunity to experience college together, something they were hoping for, but didn't think would happen. Taylor plans to pursue studies in social work and Paige will study occupational therapy.
"We were going to go to different colleges, but we were like, 'I don't know if we can do it. It'll be really hard.' I'm glad we decided on one that we could go to together," Paige said.
The Stepanskis looked at a couple of different schools including Central Michigan before deciding on Saginaw Valley, where they immediately took a liking to the campus, the coaches and the track team, which reminded them of the close-knit Alpena team.
"They really knew what they wanted," Taylor said. "The sprinting coach wanted Paige, and the cross country coached wanted me really bad."
Though they aren't sure what events they'll run in yet, early word is that Taylor will be a distance runner and Paige will be a multi-runner. Taylor will also run cross country for the Cardinals.
As part of a group of senior leaders for the Wildcats, the sisters' list of accomplishments is numerous with many state, regional and conference honors won between them.
As a freshman, Taylor burst onto the Alpena track scene, winning Female Athlete of the Alpena News Track and Field Invitational and qualifying for states in the 800 run. She has qualified for states in track every year she's run and was all-state in the 800 run as a sophomore. Taylor also qualified for states in cross country as a sophomore and a senior and was all-state as a sophomore.
She holds school records in the 800 run, the 1600 run and is part of the 1600 and 3200 relay teams.
Paige, who also plays volleyball for Alpena, qualified for states in the 300 hurdles as a sophomore and holds the school record in the 300 hurdles as well as in the 1600 relay along with her sister.
It didn't take too long for the pair to be noticed by Alpena track coaches Jack Gebauer and Collin Riffert in junior high school. Riffert persuaded them to come out for track as freshmen and eventually convinced Taylor to join the cross country team as a sophomore where she instantly blossomed.
"In seventh grade track, watching them for the first time, they blew me away with their talent on the track," Riffert said. "It's been a fun ride. They never cease to amaze me. They just keep going and keep improving and you wonder what the limit is because I honestly think they could do wonderful things going to Saginaw Valley."
In their last season of Alpena track, neither Stepanski has disappointed as they work toward getting not only themselves, but many of their teammates to the state finals.
Taylor recently set the school record in the 1600 run and nearly set a new mark for the 3200 run earlier this week. In addition to being a top hurdler for the Wildcats, Paige has also shown her mettle in the 400 dash and 800 run.
"I'm proud of getting all of our girls to state. It's a great experience to go there and see everybody running," Taylor said. "We're really looking forward to regionals this year and getting a lot of girls going to state."
It's been quite a journey for the two girls with lightning-quick speed who despised track, but have now grown to love it and are anxious to prove themselves at the next level with the Cardinals.
"It's really exciting because if you asked me two years ago, I would've said 'not running' because I hated it. I've definitely started to love it a lot and I can't wait to go to the next level and see what I can do," Paige said. "Track in high school is definitely one of the best choices I made because it showed me that I can be better than I think I am and throughout the years it really just grew on me."