If her freshman year at Fairfield Warde High School was any indication, Lia Joham's going to have a pretty special high school running career.

Joham capped a stellar first year by reaching the New Balance Nationals Outdoor meet in two events-- the freshman 400-meters and as a leg of Warde's emerging elite 1,600 sprint-medley relay team.

"It was really exciting," Joham said of reaching June 14's nationals in Greensboro, N.C. "It was really fun and an awesome experience."

The 15-year-old Joham finished sixth in the freshman 400 in Greensboro and -- along with classmates Heather Gans and Quinn Ingram and senior Sarah Collins -- took 12th in the 1,600 emerging elite sprint relay.

"They did a phenomenal job," Warde girls outdoor track coach Shawn Sorbello said. "It's exciting to see them step up at such a young age."

The sprint-medley relay is not an outdoor event, yet Joham, Gans, Ingram and Collins qualified for nationals thanks to their first-place finish -- and 4:18.47 time-- in the race at the O'Grady Relays in Danbury, April 28. The race is run in four legs: two 200-meter sections, a 400-meter, then an 800 to close.

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"It's one of those cool things, because it's not an outdoor event," Sorbello said.

Although they qualified, when Sorbello told the four girls, disbelief reigned.

"We asked him `is this a joke,'" Collins said. "We thought he was kidding."

Gans, Collins and Joham were part of the 4x400 relay outdoor team that took 17th at the State Open in New Britain. Yet, while Collins and Gans were preparing for nationals, Joham's 400-meter career was taking off. The freshman finished second among all first-years in the 400 at the New England Interscholastic Outdoor Track & Field Meet June 9 in Saco, Maine, qualifying her for the freshman national race.

"It was hard," Joham said. "We had full workouts every day and really long practices."

While Gans, Collins and Ingram flew down, Joham hopped in her family's station wagon and road tripped to Greensboro. She stopped a night in Virginia, before making the four-hour trek to Greensboro.

"It was really exciting, going on a road trip with my family," Joham said.

Joham competed, first in the sprint-medley and then the 400. The events came nearly an hour apart, stunting her rest time between races.

"It was tough," she said.

But Joham posted a 58.16 in the race, finishing as the nation's sixth-best freshman runner. The mark inspired both Joham and Sorbello.

"She's hovering around that 58 second mark," Sorbello said. "It's a pretty awesome mark ... and she had the guts to do it, my hat's off to her."

Ingram and Gans will have opportunities to improve their times in their sophomore seasons. But for Collins, who is headed to Providence, this season's success has led to potential bigger plans a year from now.

"I potentially could run there," Collins said. "It feels great, because I plateaued my junior year and it was really frustrating. To come out and run and run well was incredible."

Collins also was amazed by the atmosphere at North Carolina A&T, the site of the national race.

"It was unlike any race we ran all year," Collins said.

Joham will run cross country in the fall and look to improve on her 400 time in hopes of getting back to the nationals as a sophomore.

"I've learned a lot how to run," Joham said. "I'm going to try to shave a second off my 400 time so I can qualify for the emerging elite 400. I won't be eligible for the freshman race again."

And even a month-long vacation to Austria will not deter her from her training.

"I'm racing in a 400-meter race in Austria," she said. "I think it's going to be a completely different experience, and I'll see how they race there."

ppickens@bcnnew.com; www.twitter.com/Pat_Pickens