Growing up in Ahwatukee, Larissa Blanchard took to soccer as her primary sport.
There were moments where she believed her skills on the field would help lead her to college. That was her goal as she went through elementary and middle school at St. John Bosco Catholic School in Ahwatukee. But that began to change in high school while attending nearby Seton Catholic.
She joined the Sentinel track & field team as a sophomore to help improve her speed for soccer. She didn’t realize she would quickly fall in love with the sport, specifically the hurdles.
Now, as she prepares for her senior season at Perry High School in Gilbert, she is dead set on a career as a hurdler in college.
“I think it was halfway through the track season my sophomore year,” Blanchard said. “I was like, ‘oh my gosh, this is really fun. I can actually do this.’ It is really an individual sport, and you don’t really have to rely on teammates to win. It was a lot more fun for me.”
Blanchard enjoyed her time at Seton Catholic. Deciding to transfer to Perry wasn’t an easy decision by any means. But most of the track coaching staff at Seton Catholic had decided to step away after the 2022 season.
She had her choice of schools with Arizona being an open enrollment state. She contemplated Chandler, a powerhouse program that up until last season had won five straight state titles – excluding the canceled 2020 season – and 14 since 2006. But she decided on Perry, the team that dethroned the Wolves in May.
The decision was also made easily with her father living in close proximity to the school. Her mother, Ann, still lives in Ahwatukee. Beyond her living situation, Blanchard identified what has and is currently still being built at Perry. It’s a school that has appeared in and won several state championships across several different sports. Track is now one of them.
“I think this is going to be a huge switch from Division III to Division I,” Blanchard said. “Especially with coaching, at Seton there were coaches that coached multiple events. Here, it’ll be more one-on-one, which I’m excited for.”
Despite being less than two years into her track career, Blanchard has already established herself as one of the better hurdlers in the state.
In her first season she made it to the state track meet in five events. As a junior, she focused more on hurdles. She also competed last spring in the 100-meter dash.
She knew heading into the state finals for the 100-meter hurdles Remy Romney of American Leadership Academy – Queen Creek would be among her toughest competition. But in the final race she put on one of her best performances to win gold in Division III.
“It was really cool for me,” Blanchard said. “I’ve only been doing it two seasons and I did against Remy Romney, who is a really good hurdler. My first thought was, ‘this is really happening.’”
Blanchard’s impressive showing this past season helped her earn an invitation to the National Outdoor Championships in Oregon. She didn’t attend, mostly because she felt she wasn’t ready for that caliber of competition just yet. However, if invited next season, she plans to go.
The state championship win, coupled with her natural ability, has also helped her get on the radar of some colleges. She has talked to some locally and has even toured Arizona State. So far, her options are open.
But it appears that she will eventually follow in her mother’s path to becoming a Division I track athlete. Ann was a distance runner at Ole Miss in college. So, to see her daughter follow a similar path is meaningful.
“For me, it would be like the legacy lives on,” Ann said. “My whole family, we want to see it. We don’t want her track meets and her athletic career to end after her senior year. We want to see how far she can go.
“I think Larissa is going to be very competitive this year. I can’t wait to see her at the state championships next year.”
Perry recently announced it had promoted former assistant Jeff Gurecki as its new head girls’ track coach. He is replacing Bryan Idleman, who stepped down to spend more time with family.
Due to her transfer, Blanchard will have to sit out the first half of the spring season. But she plans to train with a club team with close ties to Perry this fall and winter. She is excited for the opportunity to compete for Perry as a senior and perhaps set new records for the Pumas.
She hopes to leave a legacy that centers around going for goals, no matter how new they may be.
“If you feel like you want to go do something, just go do it and see how far you can get,” Blanchard said.