By Landon Negri
For the Press Enterprise
She was supposed to be running around kicking a soccer ball, and not getting her kicks by running around.
As it turns out, Rylee Penn was full of surprises.
Centennial High’s Rylee Penn got to be a three-sport standout for the first time this year. The senior finished in the top 20 in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 in cross country, scored eight goals and helped Centennial’s girls soccer team win the Big VIII League championship and advanced to the CIF-State Track and Field Championship as one of California’s top runners in the 800 meters.
Penn brought in a lot of honors this year, competing at the highest level in three sports. She’s also the SoCal Prep Legends 2018 Female Athlete of the Year as the top girls high school athlete in Souther California.
“I would have never imagined accomplishing this much, honestly,” Penn said. “Coming in, I thought I was going to be a soccer player at Centennial and becoming a track star – it’s crazy. It really is.”
How she arrived at running track is even crazier. And credit an assist to Centennial cross country and distances track coach Jared Schweitzer.
Schweitzer said he first noticed Penn when he was teaching at Letha Raney Intermediate School. Already a youth club soccer player, Penn came out to a middle-school meet and ran the 1,600 meters.
“She came out in the seventh grade and a ran a 5:40 mile,” Schweitzer said. “This comes out of nowhere. In the eighth grade, I had to do some convincing, because she wasn’t sure she wanted to do it again.”
As luck would have it, Schweitzer got a teaching position at Centennial the same year Penn walked on campus as a freshman. Again, he tried persuading her to run. Again, it took some time.
“He tried to convince me to join cross country his freshman year and I told him, ‘No,’ ” Penn said. “But he eventually convinced me to join the track team.”
“She decided to do the Foot Locker West Regionals at Mt. SAC (at the end of cross country season),” Schweitzer said. “She trained for, like, a week … and she wound up running a faster time than any of the girls ran on the team that year. I think that kind of opened her eyes.”
So how did she do in track? Penn chipped away at her time in the 800 and advanced all the way to the state meet. After running eighth in the prelim at Clovis Buchanan High School, she followed up the next night with a stunning second-place run in 2 minutes, 9.17 seconds.
As a sophomore, Penn ran cross country. As a junior, she battled a stress fracture that knocked out most of her track season. This year, she was able to put it all together, including a return to her soccer roots, which marked the first time she played high school soccer at Centennial.
She scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Corona on Jan. 17, a win crucial to the Huskies’ 8-0-2 Big VIII record.
“Soccer was definitely my first love,” she said. “Honestly, I think it helped bring back the passion for track just as much as everything else.”
It has come full circle. As a senior she has been chipping away at her 800 time – just as she did as a freshman. She qualified second at the CIF-SS Masters meet with a time of 2:10.74.
Along the way, Penn was recruited for track and earned a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati, where she’ll continue a running career that almost didn’t happen.
“It fit exactly what I was looking for,” Penn said.
The SoCal Prep Legends Athlete of the Year awards are selected by the high school sports writers of the Southern California News Group, which covers more the 600 schools in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Orange County, Riverside County and San Bernardino County. The Female Athlete of the Year is one of four end-of-year awards, including Male Athlete of the Year and fan vote for male athlete of the year and fan vote for female athlete of the year.