Last summer, Ella Auderset stepped onto the track at the University of North Carolina during an unofficial visit to the Chapel Hill campus with her parents and Urbana High coach C.J. Ecalono.
She was in the state for the New Balance National outdoor track meet in Greensboro. And even though the Tar Heels weren’t recruiting her at the time, the versatile running star wanted to take a close look at a college that was on the list she gave Ecalono when he asked earlier in the year for her “dream schools.”
Said Ecalono, “I never thought a year from then she’d be committing there.”
A rising senior at Urbana and two-time News-Post Runner of the Year, Auderset verbally committed earlier this month to UNC. She’ll receive scholarship money to join top-notch Atlantic Coast Conference indoor and outdoor track programs and take more steps to push her seemingly boundless limits in events from 300 meters to a mile.
“I’m really excited. It’s such a great opportunity,” Auderset said Thursday in a phone interview. “After talking to the coaches, they already have a plan, and I’m excited to see, being in a place like that where I do have a lot of resources that I don’t have right now, I’m excited to see how I’ll be able to grow and progress.”
Auderset has already come a long way since entering high school and following her older sister, Susannah, onto the track at Urbana. As a newcomer, Ella Auderset quickly made a name for herself with fast times that she never would’ve expected as a middle-schooler who was more focused on soccer.
“It’s such a rewarding sport,” she said. “As soon as I started running, I fell in love with it.”
Ecalono could tell he had something special when Auderset, then a freshman, churned out a 2-minute, 18-second 800-meter run. By the next year, he was certain she had Division I ability, as long as some of those coaches could take a look at her. So he had a conversation with her about where she might like to run at the next level.
“At that point, I was open to everything,” Auderset said.
Ecalono said he still has the notes on his phone from that turning-point discussion. “UNC was on that list, and it was pretty high on that list,” he said.
In her ensuing track seasons, Auderset put together a glistening résumé. She won the 4A indoor state title at 500 meters as a sophomore in what Ecalono said was among the best races he’s ever seen, pacing the Hawks to the team trophy.
During outdoor season that year, she won two more gold medals (800, 4x400 relay) as the Hawks were champions again. This past February, symbolizing her selflessness, Auderset helped lead all three Hawks relay teams (4x200, 4x400 and 4x800) to state titles as Urbana was crowned yet again.
While her personal best times from 300 to 800 meters began drawing the attention of college recruiters, Ecalono said he’s regularly even more awed by what he sees Auderset pull off in practice.
For instance, he’ll give one of her teammates a 10-second head start, then unleash Auderset to chase her down. He’ll have his girls run 400-meter repeats with targeted times for each lap and varying amounts of recovery time, and Auderset will do it effortlessly four or five times, relishing the chance to test her limits.
“She’s making 1:12s look so easy, and she’s also running closer to 1:08 or faster than that,” Ecalono said.
That said, the coach hopes he gets more time with Auderset this school year to help enhance her endurance and instill more confidence in a star that Ecalono says he’d like to see “have more attitude going into races.”
At UNC, she’s uncertain as to what her specialty might be initially — though her favorite event now might be the 800 (her personal best is 2:11.74).
Ecalono insists, “We still don’t know what her best event is.” But he can see the Tar Heels expanding her training mileage with plans on making the mile her focus.
In a sign of her modesty, Auderset said she’ll just be happy to have a chance to compete for a program that she believes is on track to being a powerhouse during her years there.
“They’re ready to work with me,” she said. “Right now I see myself as a distance runner, but I guess things could obviously change as the years progress.”