Maria Coffin, 2017, Annapolis High School

by Katherine Dunn

Most runners tackling the Hereford cross country course hate The Dip. Maria Coffin loved it.

Climbing out of that steep ravine twice in three miles defeats a lot of runners, but Coffin usually proved her superiority there, especially the second time through about a half mile from the finish.

In the 2016 state championship, the Annapolis senior ran with Walter Johnson’s Abigail Green until their final pass through The Dip where Coffin pulled ahead. She won by five seconds in 17:49.40, breaking her own course record and becoming the first girl to run under 18 minutes.

Maria Coffin is currently a junior at Providence College, where she has continued to improve as a long distance runner.

“Going up The Dip, everyone says that’s the hardest part, because it’s obviously the biggest hill on that course,” Coffin said, “and then coming back the second time, you’re almost done the race and you’re so tired. I’d say the second time I just have an edge on everyone in the sense that I feel really strong running over hills. I get a second wind going up The Dip the second time when I see everyone in the crowd up there and I feel like I’m able to finish fast.”

Coffin won two state Class 4A championships, earned Gatorade Maryland Cross Country Runner of the Year honors twice, and was an All-American her senior year after finishing 10th at Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships.

That resume combined with her ability to repeatedly conquer Hereford, the gold-standard cross country course for Maryland high school runners, elevates Coffin to VSN’s No. 1 Girls Cross Country Runner of the Decade.

Only three girls have run faster than 18 minutes on the current three-mile Hereford course which was redesigned and became faster in 2013. Coffin also ran 18:09 there in the 2015 Bull Run Invitational, still the meet record and the fourth fastest girls time on the course.

“Hereford has such a historical name and at one point it was voted the hardest cross country course in the nation, so to have a record on a course like that and that no one has broken it just means a lot, because it was so tough to do,” said Coffin, a three-time Anne Arundel County champion who now runs for Providence College.

A former swimmer who started running in middle school, Coffin steadily improved over the course of her high school career.

As a sophomore, she finished 34th at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional meet, but the next year, she finished third. That sent her to San Diego to compete in the Foot Locker Nationals where she finished 27th in 18:22.6 on the 5K Balboa Park course.

A year later, she again finished third in the Northeast Regional, but when she returned to San Diego, she cut more than 30 seconds off her time to finish in 17:50.21. Her 10th place finish earned her All-America status.

Coffin singled out qualifying for the Foot Locker nationals as a junior as her biggest breakthrough. She had already run at the New Balance Nationals for track, but had never qualified for a national cross country race.

“It was exiting to have won a few state titles before that [in cross country and track], so I would say those were breakthroughs as well, but when I finished third at the Northeast Regional for Foot Locker my junior year, that was first national meet I had really qualified for… I wasn’t expecting myself to be third. I was kind of on the bubble to even make nationals, to make the top ten, so being third, that was probably my biggest breakthrough.”

The Baltimore Sun’s Cross Country Runner of the Year twice, Coffin also won six state track championships, from 800 to 3,200 meters, and The Sun named her High School Female Athlete of the Year in 2017.

After Coffin’s junior year, then-Annapolis coach Paula Carrigan told Gatorade Player of the Year officials, “Her passion is evident and she is always curious and wants to learn as much as she can to improve and become a stronger runner. With her workouts and racing, she is willing to find her new edge, explore it and push those limits to the maximum.”

At Providence, Coffin continues to improve. She finished fourth in the Big East Championships and notched a 6K PR of 20:22.50 at the NCAA Northeast Regional meet last fall as a junior.

After training at home this summer, she will soon return to Providence where she hopes to compete at some point this school year although the Big East has canceled athletic competition for the fall. No matter what happens, Coffin, 21, has no plans to stop running when she graduates from college.

“There are a lot of people I know that don’t really enjoy running, but they love the competitive side of it. I really like running,” Coffin said. “I really like long runs. I think that eventually I’m going to turn to the marathon and try to make the Olympic Trials. I just really like how I feel on long runs. I feel like I can run for a really long time. I love the competitive side as well. There’s nothing better than seeing yourself progress and make national meets and place at national meets. That’s super exciting.”

No. 4: Maura Linde Knestout, 2011, Century High School

No. 3: Juliette Whittaker, 2022, Mount de Sales Academy

No. 2: Ellie Gonzalez, 2014, The Catholic High School of Baltimore