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Danielle Shanahan LMU

Danielle Shanahan, right, competes for Loyola Marymount's cross country team at the Mark Covert Classic in Brea, California, in September 2017.

Danielle Shanahan has been working on getting her professional running career on track.

The NAZ Elite rookie will take on the Baldy Castillo 1,500-meter run on Friday in Tempe looking to start the spring with success on a surface she favors. It's Shanahan's sixth race with NAZ Elite, and the outdoor track race could provide the young runner a chance to find her winning ways.

“You can’t only run these huge competitions, you have to find a couple smaller competitions where they can run up front and practice trying to win or maybe even win it," NAZ Elite head coach Ben Rosario said Tuesday about getting young runners such as Shanahan adjusted to racing at the pro level. "That’s the idea here with this first outdoor meet. Go down and try to win, try to remember what it’s like to win, because she’s had some wins in college but it’s been a little more difficult in her first season as a pro because the fields are so good.”

NAZ Elite rookie Alice Wright got her first pro win earlier this month while taking on a weaker field in Alabama at the Birmingham Wine 10K. Like Shanahan, Wright has faced ups and downs since turning pro, finishing seventh in February's Pacific Pursuit 10K and 19th in January's Houston half marathon before the victory in Alabama.

The tough fields have been a bit of shock for Shanahan, who didn't run in too many high-pressure college events while at the small Division I school of Loyola Marymount. In the 2018 USATR 5K championships, she came in 13th in 16:20, and she was 16th with a time of 20:12 at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships.

She had success in some smaller races, however, taking second place at the Dana Point Turkey Trot 10K in 34:19 on a 5:32 pace.

Shanahan now has the experience of racing at the international level to build off of, as she ran with Team USA in the Great Stirling XC 4x1.5K relay in January.

Rosario said Shanahan has had to learn how to manipulate her emotions, turning a fear of the field into an excitement to compete against the best.

“That can be a fine line, but I think she is finding herself on the right side of it, at least for this week," Rosario said.

Wright hopes the formula of running in smaller races in order to gain confidence works. She will look to ride the momentum of her recent gold performance into Saturday's New York City Half Marathon, where she'll be joined by teammates Kellyn Taylor and Sid Vaughn.

Taylor's seen the big stages of racing before, but for Wright and Vaughn, Saturday will present one of the largest events they've competed in at the pro level.

Wright has the benefit of racing in high-pressure situations. She was part of a New Mexico team that won two NCAA team cross country titles in 2015 and 2017. Vaughn, on the other hand, brought some pro experience to NAZ Elite when he joined in January, but he hasn't had the chance to compete in a confidence-boosting smaller race yet.

Rosario's not worried about Vaughn taking on some tough tests. In fact, Vaughn has been on the rise overall and owns a PR in the half marathon of a 1:03:35 time he set in the 2018 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon.

“He relishes those opportunities, he wants to be on the big stage," Rosario said.

And there are not overwhelming expectations for Vaughn, who opened his career with NAZ Elite with a 36th-place finish in the highly anticipated USATF Cross Country Championships in February.

Rosario said he wasn't sure if putting Vaughn in the cross country championships was a good idea, but added that his new member of the roster is ready to go, even just for the experience of running with such a solid field in a big race.

While the younger members of NAZ Elite go out and gain experience, Taylor carries the highest expectations into the weekend. Coming off a first-place finish at the Pacific Pursuit, the veteran will look to be the first American woman to cross the finish line in New York.

“This is a good distance for her right now and I think she could be the first American and in the top five overall," Rosario said. "It’s a really deep, deep field, so I think those would be good goals -- try to get close to her PR and be in that top five overall.”

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Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at mhartman@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.

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