Amy-Eloise Neale, a graduate of Glacier Peak in Snohomish who is one of the most acclaimed high-school distance runners to compete in the state, is a key member of the UW women’s cross-country team that will compete in Friday’s Pac-12 meet.

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In the race to be No. 1, pay attention to the runner with two first names.

Amy-Eloise Neale, a graduate of Glacier Peak in Snohomish who is one of the most acclaimed high-school distance runners to compete in the state, is a key member of the second-ranked Washington women’s cross-country team that will be in Tucson, Ariz., on Friday for the Pac-12 championships.

The Pac-12 meet, including top-ranked Colorado, is the first of three postseason events that culminate with the NCAA championships in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 19. UW — 10th at last year’s NCAAs, second in 2011 — is contending for its second national title after winning in 2008.

Neale, a junior, is vital to that effort. At the Oct. 14 Wisconsin Invitational, involving 18 of the nation’s top 30 teams, Washington won by placing seven runners among the top 50 finishers. Neale led UW’s pack by finishing fourth, completing the 6,000-meter (3.73-mile) course in 20 minutes, 5 seconds.

“Amy has big-time expectations of herself in everything she does,” said Greg Metcalf, UW track and cross-country coach. “She wants to be great on the track, great in the classroom.

“She wants to do it all, and do it all in the right way.”

Three times at Glacier Peak, Neale was named Gatorade Girls Athlete of the Year in both track and cross country, winning her final prep cross-country state meet by 41 seconds.

Born in England — her parents moved to the Northwest when she was 2 — Neale has often competed for England in international events. A month after she graduated from Glacier Peak, she placed fifth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2013 European Junior Championships in Italy.

Last spring, she finished 10th in the 1,500-meter finals at the NCAA outdoor championships, running 4:16.19 (her second-best career time) and earning second-team All-American honors.

Track, Metcalf speculates, might be where Neale’s greatest upside lies. “Her range is as good as anybody’s,” he said. “She runs the 800, the 1,500, the 3,000, and here in the fall she’s out competing with the best 5K women in America.

“In cross country, she’s matured and learned to manage the distance and the race,” he said. “In the Wisconsin invite, her last 1,000 meters was faster than anybody’s in the field. She’s really learned how to finish cross-country races.”

All of this is sweeter for Neale because her recent accomplishments have come after injuries (shin stress fracture; strained iliotibial band that affected her femur) caused her to redshirt her sophomore year — the first major disruption in a previously charmed running career.

“Those (injuries) took a long time to work through and get my body back on track again,” said Neale, who ran nearly injury-free in high school. “There were a lot of factors related to them.

“It was a big adjustment to be here (at UW). Nothing was necessarily wrong with the training here or anything, but I think the intensity was higher. There are so many other parts of life that you have to balance. I maybe should have listened to my body more than I did to a certain point.

“Injuries are a very humbling thing,” Neale, 21, said with a small laugh. “When something that’s defined you all the way through high school — I was The Runner — it was always something I could fall back on as my identity.

“When that’s taken away, you have to find other things you love to do to define your self-worth. It gave me a chance to throw myself into school and invest in the people around me. Now that I’m getting back into racing, it changes my perspective on where running is in my life.

“If I have a bad workout or race, I no longer have this overwhelming ‘it’s the end of the world’ feeling. It’s just a workout. It’s just a race. I have more ahead of me. That change in perspective has helped me remain a lot calmer and focused during races and able to make really smart decisions. It keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. Now I just want to make every race better than the last.”

“For Amy to really grow as an athlete, maybe she needed a struggle,” said Metcalf, who recalls an animated conversation one year ago involving him, Neale and assistant coach Anita Campbell when they debated whether she should sit out her sophomore year. “Maybe she got too much of a struggle, but now I think she has great perspective.

“I think she was humbled along the way, but the rewards of that have been fantastic. Getting through to the other side of it made her more appreciative of what she’s doing and what she’s able to do. Now she’s having fun and appreciates the ability to stand on the starting line and go race to the utmost of her ability.”

Notes

• Two first names? “My parents just liked both names, so I use them both,” said Neale, an avid reader who carries a 3.8 grade-point average. Most friends, she says, call her Amy. She spoke without a British accent during the interview. Does one ever surface? “It switches back and forth, depending who I’m talking to, which is a little weird,” she said. “I do slide back into my English accent when I go back home.”

• Neale will have plenty of help if UW takes first in the Pac-12s, West Regionals (Nov. 11) or NCAAs. Sophomore Charlotte Prouse finished fifth at Wisconsin, three seconds behind Neale. Freshman Kaitlyn Neal was 34th (20:47), senior Kaylee Flanagan 36th, freshman Nikki Zielinski 36th, followed by juniors Anna Maxwell (48th) and Katie Knight (50th). Knight, by far, was the highest No. 7 finisher on any team.

• Can this year’s squad repeat the 2008 team’s title run? “2008 was as perfect a season as you could possibly have,” said Metcalf. “No one got sick, no one got hurt. It was all great, every day, and that team was loaded. To go one through six at the Pac-12 championships, have the lowest score in Pac-12 history, dismantle the No. 2 Oregon Ducks on their home course and win the national championship — that was a great team.

“This team is different. This team has great athletes, and the runners have great track credentials. We’ve got good leadership, and over the next few weeks this team can define its own level of success. This team is deep. One through nine, it’s as good of a team as we’ve had since 2008.”

• The 25th-ranked UW men will also compete in Tucson. Colby Gilbert, a junior from Skyview in Vancouver, Wash., is UW’s top male runner. He won the Pac-12 5,000-meter title last spring.