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Iron & Fire | Albany Distance Star Sophia Nordenholz Chases Second CIF Title Iron & Fire | Albany Distance Star Sophia Nordenholz Chases Second CIF Title
After Finding And Correcting An Iron Deficiency, Albany High’s Sophia Nordenholz Could Properly Fuel Her Passion For Running — And Become One Of State’s... Iron & Fire | Albany Distance Star Sophia Nordenholz Chases Second CIF Title

After Finding And Correcting An Iron Deficiency, Albany High’s Sophia Nordenholz Could Properly Fuel Her Passion For Running — And Become One Of State’s Best Distance Runners •

It’s been a long journey to the California Interscholastic Federation State Track and Field Championships for Albany High senior Sophia Nordenholz.

Nordenholz stayed committed to running through the pandemic, but things weren’t clicking as she entered her junior school year in the fall of 2020. 

“I just kept training. Honestly, I was running a lot by myself and not feeling great,” said Nordenholz.

She went to the doctor and had some blood work done. The results showed that she had an iron deficiency.

Once she began taking iron pills, she started feeling better and the times quickly began to go down.

“All of the sudden I was running a 5:02 in a (1600-meter) time trial,” said Nordenholz. Her previous best, from a race her freshman year, was 5 minutes, 14 seconds. 


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During the 2021 track season at the Arcadia Invitational, she ran the fastest 3200 ever by a North Coast Section girl (10:05.91). That also put her on the map for college recruiters. Nordenholz signed with Washington last fall. 

In November of 2021, Nordenholz won the CIF Division IV girls state championship cross country race with the fastest girls time of the day in all divisions at Fresno’s Woodward Park (16:46 for the 3.1 mile course). Only three high school girls have ever run the course faster in California state championship history (it is the only course that has been used for state championship meets). 

Sophia Nordenholz, Albany
Sophia Nordenholz separates herself from competitors during the 3200 meter final at the NCS Meet Of Champion. (Passion Evans photos)

Now she will be running her final high school race at the state track and field championships this Saturday. She qualified in both the 1600 and 3200, but she will concentrate on only the 3200 at Buchanan High School in Clovis. 

“I think my stronger race is the 3200,” Nordenholz said. Her season-best time of 10:14.32 ranks fourth in the state, according to, but two of the three runners ranked ahead of her are not entered in the event at the state championships. 

Albany track and field coach Jack Wallace points out Nordenholz’s determination as a reason she is such a good distance runner.

“She is motivated to do the best that she can all the time,” Wallace said. “When I give her a workout, I guess a good analogy is that she cleans the plate. She gets every scrap out of that workout.”

“She’s pretty quiet most of the time … she’s really not the kind of person who likes attention,” said Yvonne Gallegos, Albany assistant cross country and track coach. “She just has this heart. She has like a little fire inside of her. You give her a workout and she wants to do even more.”

Nordenholz has an innate sense of pace during a race that is rare for high school distance runners. For example, in her North Coast Section Meet of Champions victory in the 1600, these were her 400-meter splits: 1:12.61, 1:12.33, 1:12.62, 1:11.80 (for a total of 4:49.36).

“I try to make a race plan and stick with it,” Nordenholz said. “I try to know what I can do and not go out too fast.” 

Wallace noticed this pacing skill when he first saw Nordenholz running around the Albany Middle School track. 

“I think it was in eighth grade,” Wallace said. “I think she was pacing herself. It looked like she was going at a 5:20 pace.”

North Coast Section Track, Meet Of Champions
Nordenholz contemplates her race plan as she waits at the starting line for the Meet of Champions 3200 final.

Nordenholz started running in third grade when she would join her mom Kris Kelly for approximately three-mile runs twice a week. 

“My mom was always a runner, so I looked up to her for that,” Nordenholz said. “I thought it was cool to run far and not get tired.”

Nordenholz ran for the Raptors club and for Albany Middle School teams, and also played soccer as a youth. 

“Compared to a lot of people, I honestly wasn’t running very competitively,” she said. “I wasn’t that focused.”

When she was a freshman, she was 16th in the NCS Meet of Champions 3200 with a time of 11:23.27. That fall as a sophomore, she placed fourth in the NCS Division IV cross country race (18:39.8 on the three-mile Hayward High course) and 45th in the Division IV state championships (19:09.6).

Then the pandemic hit. But Nordenholz found out about her iron deficiency, and the 1600 time trial in the fall of 2020 was a preview of what was to come.

“It was just like a bizarre feeling,” she said about starting her junior season of track in 2021. “I had no idea what my potential was. It was after a long period of not performing great.”

Sophia Nordenholz, Hanne Thomsen, Albany, Montgomery
Nordenholz keeps pace early in the NCS 3200 meter final as eventual-winner Hanne Thomsen of Montgomery-Santa Rosa leads the pack.

Then she produced her second-place finish in the Arcadia Invitational 3,200 meters with the great 10:05.91 clocking in early May last year.

“That was kind of a shock. It came out of nowhere,” said Nordenholz, who had run 10:40.16 at the Dublin Distance Fiesta that April. “The second mile I felt so strong and I just went for it.”

The University of Washington came calling and Nordenholz really liked the fit.

“I really like the coach a lot and I’m just really excited to go to Seattle,” Nordenholz said. “I want to study environmental science and engineering; they have either one.”

On Nov. 27, Nordenholz won the Division IV state cross country title with her outstanding time of 16:46. In the Division IV record books, her time trails only the marks set by Claudia Lane of Malibu in 2016 and 2017 (16:45 and 16:30 respectively). Nordenholz’s time is also tied for third all-time for senior girls in all divisions, and only three girls in any of the divisions have ever run a faster time in CIF state meet history. 

But her season wasn’t over. Nordenholz qualified for the Eastbay National Cross Country Championships by placing fourth in the West Regional on the legendary Mt. San Antonio College course (17:30 for the three-mile course). In the nationals at San Diego’s Balboa Park on Dec. 11, Nordenholz finished an impressive ninth in 17:36.7 for the 3.1-mile course, the top time from a Californian in the race. She was named to the all-USA Today girls cross country team. 

Sophia Nodenholz, Albany

This track season, Nordenholz prepared for the NCS Meet of Champions by winning NCS Bay Shore titles in the 1600 (a personal-record 4:48.43) and the 3200 (10:29.11). She won the NCS Meet of Champions title in the 1600 by more than two seconds, but in the 3200, a freshman Hanne Thomsen of Montgomery-Santa Rosa (who has a personal record of 10:12:03 and ran only that individual event on Saturday) finished six seconds ahead of Nordenholz (10:23.82 to 10:29.77). 

Nordenholz said that’s something she enjoys about distance running is “the people that I’ve met”.

“Running has a way of bonding you with people,” said Nordenholz, as she talked about the closeness of cross country teams and even opponents in cross country and track. “That’s something that’s really special about running.”

Phil Jensen is a member of the Silicon Valley Community Newspapers sports staff. Follow him on Twitter: @JensenPhil

Phil Jensen

Phil Jensen is a member of the Silicon Valley Community Newspapers sports staff. Follow him on Twitter: @JensenPhil

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