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Sam Houston's Halyn Senegal wins the 800 meter run at Westlake High School in Westlake, Louisiana on Friday, April 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Lake Charles American Press, Kirk Meche)

Sam Houston's Halyn Senegal's track career started six years ago, but in that time she has gone from friendly races on the playground to one of the premier middle-distance runners in the state.

It started when she was in sixth grade. Before that, Senegal said she never participated in organized sports, but she decided to join the track team because of her ability to beat just about anyone who challenged her.

"In elementary school I would always race people and win," Senegal said. "I just figured I would try out for track since I was faster than the boys and girls. That was the first time I ever got in to sports.

"I like competing. That is my favorite thing and the challenge to get faster every time."

Senegal first event was the 1,600-meter run, but she eventually added the 400- and 800-meter runs.

"It (800) is actually very hard, but I am pretty good at it so I just keep going," Senegal said.

There have been some challenges in her career, but Senegal never slows down for long.

Her high school career started with an injury that cut short her freshman season, but she recovered and won the Class 5A 800 (2:16.84) state title in 2019 and finished fourth in the 400 (57.02).

She started her junior season by winning the 2020 Division I indoor 800 in 2 minutes, 15.78 seconds. She missed tying the state indoor record, .57 seconds off the record.

Senegal won the 800 in the first outdoor meet of the season, the Barbe Buc Relays, but then the coronavirus pandemic canceled the rest of what could have been another championship run. But Senegal said she has been able to take advantage of the down time, lowering her personal bests to 55.31 in the 400 and 2:14.19 in the 800.

"It (pandemic) was a shock,"Senegal said. "I was expecting to break the state record this year, but everything got canceled.

"It freed up more time to practice and focus. I have been working on endurance, strength and speed."

She hit the summer track circuit hard, winning the 400 and 800 at the Track Dynamite Invitational in Dallas in July and followed that with a national championship and a runner-up finish at the Amateur Union Athletic Junior Olympics National Championship in Satellite Beach, Florida, earlier this month. Senegal and her Track Dynamite teammates won the 4x400 relay title in 3:51.75. In the 800, Senegal took second with a time of 2:15.96 and placed third in the 400 at 55.39. Only .28 second separated the top-three in the 400.

"I have been trying and trying to get in as many meets as I can to get my momentum going," Senegal said. "They have allowed me to run against higher competition closer to my times, and it really helped push me."

It was her third time running in the AAU Junior Olympics, but the first time she cracked the top eight.

"I wanted to get in the top eight and perform the best I could," Senegal said. "I was running against good competition and I was trying to stay around them and if possible pass them."

Now Senegal said she looks forward to her senior season and another chance to break record and add state championships.

"I can wait," she said. "I want to break the indoor and outdoor record in the 800. I almost broke it (800) last year, but I missed it by a half second. I just trying to make my parents proud, and make my supporters feel they are supporting me for a reason and I want to make myself proud."

Senegal said LSU, Ohio State and Alabama have expressed interest in her.

For now, Senegal said she is maintaining her training regime and is contemplating running for the Sam Houston cross country team this fall.

"I am just training right now," Senegal said. "I might do cross country this year to work on my endurance and strength."

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