At first, running with the boys was a stretch for Ashland High senior Seena Frantz.

At first, running with the boys was a stretch for Ashland High senior Seena Frantz.

Her lungs burned. She kept running.

Her legs ached. She kept running.

"Before, I was struggling," Frantz said of her unusual winter training regimen. "They pushed me, and now I can go on a six-mile run with them and it doesn't even bother me."

Now, it's Frantz's opponents who are feeling a burn.

A year removed from Southern Sky Conference obscurity, Frantz has emerged as one of the best distance runners in the state regardless of classification.

The prestigious Jim Robinson Twilight Invitational in Roseburg on April 11 provided the perfect stage for her coming out party. There, Frantz held off a Class 6A juggernaut, South Medford's Piper Delaney, for a stunning victory in the 3,000.

But the win was almost beside the point. To fully grasp Frantz's improvement, one need only look at her winning time: 10 minutes, 36.23 seconds — a phenomenal 31-second improvement over her previous personal record set four days prior, and 57 seconds better than her top time of 2008.

"I think what I've learned most about running is that every little thing — eating, drinking, all those things — are important," she said of the massive improvement. "It finally clicked for me and I was able to get those things together and run."

Frantz's banner senior season continued Tuesday as she set a PR in the 800, finishing second in 2:28.91. The winner of the race was Klamath Union's Chelsa McDonnell, who along with Crater's Kayleigh Tyerman provides a major double-hurdle that Frantz may have to overcome in order to qualify for the 5A state meet.

Tyerman ranks first, Frantz second and McDonnell third in the Southern Sky Conference in both the 3,000 and 1,500. Since only the winner of each race earns an automatic bid to state, those two races will be among the most highly anticipated at the SSC district meet, May 14 and May 16 at Klamath Falls.

The fact that Frantz is even in that conversation is a testament to her drive. Ashland distance running coach Bob Julian Jr. first noticed that talent when Frantz, on a whim, decided to try a 1,500 as a freshman. Previously a javelin and discus thrower, Frantz finished her first long race in 5:42.79, good enough for sixth place. Julian noticed, and told Frantz after the race that she was now a distance runner.

She continued to improve over the next two years, but Julian said the most telling gear shift occurred after Frantz's 10th-place finish in the 2008 cross country state championships. The solid placing qualified Frantz for the Border Clash, an all-star postseason race for the top cross country runners from Oregon and Washington state.

"She kind of got her butt kicked at the Border Clash and wanted to maybe put herself into another level," Julian said. "Over the winter, I could see a week or two after the Border Clash that she was already starting to figure things out.

"It seemed like she paid a lot more attention to the little things beyond just training. She cares about her nutrition when she's eating and she's taking care of business outside of track a little bit more. And she has a really good mental outlook about it. She was setting some pretty hard goals for herself and she was doing things to make it possible to achieve those goals."

Things like training with the boys, a strategy that helped former AHS great Natalie Hemphill grab second place in the 3,000 in 2006. And things like running 30 to 40 miles every week.

That commitment has paid off in more ways than one, as Frantz was recently awarded an athletic scholarship to run for Southern Oregon University next spring. There, she plans on continuing her rapid improvement.

"I know now that I could do a lot better than I am," she said.

How much better? Frantz believes she can break 10 minutes in the 3,000 this year, a mark that would almost certainly put her over the top at districts.

"I don't know if I'm going to have that opportunity," she said. "But I want to set (my goals) really high."

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.zavala@dailytidings.com