The actual sport itself isn’t what initially drew Carlie Dorostkar to cross country.
“I didn’t really like running,” she acknowledged sheepishly.
Dorostkar came from a swimming background and wanted to try a new sport mostly because she was hoping to make friends at a new school her freshman year at Canyon Crest Academy.
“I’d met a lot of my friends through running,” she said. “That’s what made me want to come back and do more and more.”
Dorostkar insists it has been her teammates’ support and the friendships she developed along the way that made the biggest difference in her going from a competitive distance running unknown to a cross country state champion in just over three years.
The Ravens senior, who last fall rose to prominence as one of the nation’s top collegiate prospects, made a verbal commitment to UCLA in late February.
Dorostkar, who never ran competitively before high school, came out of nowhere in her last two years at CCA, culminating with her winning the Division I state title as a senior last fall.
Dorostkar clocked a 16:54.4 time on the 3.1-mile course at Woodward Park in Fresno on Nov. 30.
Her amazing run was the fourth best time since the state meet’s 1971 inaugural.
“It is kind of an individual sport, but really it isn’t because I could never do the things I did this season without my team being there,” Dorostkar said. “The people (on our team) are so committed, we support each other a lot.”
Dorostkar became her school’s first state champion in any sport.
“For me it was unexpected,” Dorostkar said. “I think a lot of my season was unexpected.”
The Ravens made their mark at the state meet as a team, too.
Junior Elizabeth Emberger (17:50.3) placed ninth. The Ravens placed fourth overall as a team, their best finish in school history.
Dorostkar made the varsity as a freshman and immediately enjoyed the experience of being on the team, if not the actual sport itself.
“Her freshman year we knew she was going to be good,” Ravens coach Andrew Corman said. “It wasn’t until her sophomore year that we thought she could be really good, and then definitely junior year we thought she could be fantastic.
“By her senior year we knew she had a chance of winning a state title.”
Dorostkar placed sixth nationally at the Nike Cross Nationals at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland on Dec. 7, clocking a 17:36.4 that earned her All-American status.
She was named the 2019-2020 Gatorade California Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year in January.
The award recognizes academic achievement and exemplary character along with athletic excellence.
Dorostkar has maintained a 4.38 GPA and participated in Female Athlete Volunteers of San Diego, a group that connects female athletes with volunteer opportunities.
Dorostkar believes her background in swimming played a big role in her development.
“It made me stronger physically but more mentally,” she said. “I learned a lot of values, being mentally tough.
“I’m sure it helped me aerobically, but the lessons I learned from my coaches and my teammates through swimming has helped me a lot through everything in my life, especially running.”
The catchphrases her longtime swimming coach Rob Mickle used to bark out in practices, such as “school before pool!” “you can do it!” “confidence up!” turned out to be impactful.
“He had those mantras he told us all the time and they stuck with me,” she said.
Dorostkar gave up swimming after her freshman year to focus on running. She also runs track.
During her sophomore year she was embraced by the seniors on the team who became her friends and mentors. She was the only sophomore on the varsity.
“When I was a freshman, I was oblivious to everything, I didn’t know how anything worked,” Dorostkar said.
Her teammates taught her to pace herself for a long and grueling season that tests the endurance limits of elite athletes. Some days, her teammates advised her to take it easy, and on other days to go hard.
“They also taught me how to have fun with it,” Dorostkar said. “They didn’t want me to take it too seriously.”
Dorostkar remains close friends with former teammates Claire Bernd and Naomi Smitham, seniors when Dorostkar was a sophomore who went on to run at Cal and SDSU, respectively. She counts Claire’s older sister Kelly Bernd, who then ran at UCLA, among her mentors, too.
During her senior season Dorostkar got to compete with her freshmen twin sisters Nikki and Sammi Dorostkar, which “inspired me to have more fun this season.”
Corman and assistant coach Luis De La Vega played a big role in her development too.
Dorostkar has thrived in cross country despite going on a predominantly plant-based diet since her sophomore year, which presents challenges in a sport where athletes are at risk for iron deficiency.
She decided to reduce her consumption of animal protein – beef in particular – for environmental concerns after viewing “In Defense of Food,” a PBS-produced documentary. Learning about cattle farming and the role methane gas plays in climate change captured her attention.
“This is awful,” Dorostkar recalls telling herself after viewing the documentary. “Why do I want to contribute to this?”
She’s done extensive research and believes she’s struck the right dietary balance, eating fish every other day and taking iron supplements.
Dorostkar said she and her sisters enjoy preparing “beyond” burgers and tempeh bacon, among other animal protein substitutes.
“My sisters and I love cooking so it’s fun for us to figure out new recipes and try to replace things,” Dorostkar said.“It does present its own challenges with iron, so that’s something I’m working on.”
Dorostkar hasn’t spent much time thinking about what running one of the fastest times in state history or being the school’s first state champion means to her.
She believes that takes the focus away from what her team accomplished.
“I think about how my team has gotten me there, and the people that have worked with me and pushed me, because I’ve gotten a lot of support over the years,” Dorostkar said. “The girls on our team did really well this year. That’s mostly what I was thinking about (after winning the state meet). It was about how well we did as a team.”