In 2015-16, Madeleine Davison is charting her own course as one of the nation's top distance runners, electing to compete unattached as a high school senior.
In selecting a place to call home for the next four or more years, the 17-year-old athletic and academic standout has decided to follow a path that numerous other top runners from western Pennsylvania have taken. On Sunday, Davison verbally committed to Syracuse University, joining a program that currently features five runners from the Pittsburgh area.
"Since my first years of running, I have looked up to the Malone sisters as role models and friends," Davison said of a significant part of the Keystone state contingent at the Atlantic Coast Conference school. "Over the years, I've heard so much about Syracuse from their perspective, and I've gotten to watch them recover from injuries and develop their talents at the next level.
"For instance, it's been incredibly inspiring to watch Margo evolve from PA state champion to NCAA All-American in track. Those kinds of successes and the inside information I got from talking to the Malones gave me a lot of confidence in the coaches and the program as a whole."
In addition to Margo, Shannon and Mary Malone, the Orange also has North Hills graduates Joe Kush and Juris Silenieks on the men's cross country roster. A total of eight former Keystone state runners currently compete for head coach Chris Fox.
In addition to Syracuse, Davison also took official visits to Penn State, Notre Dame and Wisconsin and almost a dozen unofficials in a whirlwind recruiting effort. She noted that friends and major college runners Mary Malone and Brianna Schwartz advised her about the sometimes arduous process.
"I definitely owe a huge thank-you to my dad, who did hours upon hours of research to whittle down the list of schools to the ones that would be the best fit for me, athletically and academically," Davison said of her father, Jon. "He took me on most of my 15 college visits over the last 15 months, and we spent an incredible amount of time talking over every angle of every school I considered.
"I would also like to thank my coach, Sam Bair, for his advice throughout the process, but more importantly, for helping get to a level where I could even consider running for a DI program like Syracuse. I don't know where I'd be without his expert coaching."
A three-time state qualifier in track and cross country for North Allegheny, Davison performed at the highest level a year ago, placing third in Class AAA at Hershey and qualifying for the Foot Locker Nationals before winning the indoor 3,000- and outdoor 3,200-meter state titles. Homeschooled since first grade, Davison is taking nearly a full-time schedule of classes at the University of Pittsburgh and plans to continue that during the spring semester.
"I still haven't made any final decisions regarding a major, but I have been mulling over the possibility of studying journalism and political science or public policy," she said. "Academically, I was attracted to Syracuse for its strength in the liberal arts, particularly in the Maxwell School of Public Policy and the Newhouse School of Communications. On my unofficial visit to Syracuse during the summer, I got to speak to a couple of professors and faculty members, who were very friendly and helpful in addition to being excellent teachers and counselors."
Davison has fared very well in her three open races this fall, taking in invitationals at Penn State, Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan. She plans to head to New York City and Van Cortlandt Park for the New York Road Runners Fred Lebow Cross Country Championships.
The 5K on November 15 will follow the historic course that Davison will tackle on November 28 for one of 10 qualifying spots for a return trip to the Foot Locker finals in San Diego.