Catholic senior Amaris Tyynismaa didn’t embrace the recruiting process as colleges lined up to market their schools to one of the best distance runners in the state’s history.
Tyynismaa, by her own account, is an introverted athlete who has a talent for running but would just as soon avoid any of the publicity or accolades that accompany her accomplishments. So early in the recruiting process, she settled on her criteria and narrowed the list of candidates.
“My first unofficial visit was to Alabama,” she said. “The head coach told me I should pick five things that were most important to me. So location, the academics, the athletics, scholarship money, if you’re a good fit, those were the things I looked at when I visited different colleges.”
Tyynismaa quietly signed with Alabama on the first day of the early signing period, not even telling school officials of her choice initially.
“There were a lot of different colleges that I didn’t visit that would have been great colleges to attend,” she said. “My official visits were to Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee. I just kept it to three. After that, I decided I just wanted to stay in Alabama. I’m a military brat and have been to so many places, but even though I’ve only been here seven years, it feels like home. I would consider it my hometown because it’s the longest I’ve been anywhere.
“Alabama had everything I wanted and everything I needed,” she concluded. “I think I can be very successful there.”
To say Tyynismaa is the most acclaimed Alabamian in the history of high school track would be a disservice to a sport that once drew more participants, more spectators and more attention. But she is clearly one of the most decorated, holding 25 state championship trophies with six events left to run.
“She’s the best distance runner that’s ever come through this town, male or female,” said Catholic track coach Ed Wright, who coached his share of stars at perennial track power Robert E. Lee early in his 38-year coaching career.
In 2014-15, as an eighth grader, Tyynismaa set the cross country state record for all classifications at 17:03.04, set the indoor track state record for all classifications in the 3200-meter run at 10:32.94 and set 4A-5A records that would later be broken in the 800-meter run at 217.57 and the 1600-meter run at 5:01.36.
Her indoor times broke previous records that had all been set 10 or more years earlier.
In outdoor track, she repeated the feat, setting the 4A record in the 3200-meter run at 10:53.15 and setting 4A records that would later be broken in 800-meter and 1600-meter runs.
While there was never a record-setting performance like her eighth-grade year, Tyynismaa continued to set the bar high.
In cross country, she followed up her state championship season of 2014 with state titles in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. In four of those five years, her time was the fastest time for a female runner regardless of classification.
In the indoor track event, she owns state championships in the 800-meter run in 2015 and 2016, in the 1600-meter run in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and in the 3200-meter run in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Her 2015 time in the 3200 remains the best time for a female in Alabama high school history and her 2018 time (4:56.31) in the 1600 broke her 2015 time and set a new 4A record for girls.
She will run in the 800, 1600 and 3200 at the 2019 state indoor track meet at the Birmingham Crossplex on Feb. 1-2.
In outdoor track, she owns state championships in the 800-meter run in 2015 and 2018, in the 1600-meter run in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and in the 3200-meter run in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. She set three Class 4A records as an eighth grader in the three events, but only the 3200-meter run time of 10:53.15 remains a record. Her 800-meter record was broken the following year by Cele Moon of Wilson and Tyynismaa herself broke the 1600-meter record with a new mark of 4:57.42 last May.
She plans to run in the 800, 1600 and 3200 at the 2019 state outdoor track meet in Gulf Shores on May 2-4.
She would also like to run in national events, pointing out the New Balance Nationals Indoor in New York on March 8-10 or the New Balance Nationals Outdoor in Greensboro, N.C., on June 14-16. Tyynismaa’s time this past year would place her in the top five in the 3200-meter run in either event, but she admits she has trouble stepping outside of her comfort zone and competing in national competition.
“I have major anxiety so I’ve opted out of all these national races,” she said. “I always get too nervous and I let my parents down not going to them. I’m so hopeful I can do like a New Balance indoor and outdoor, not get anxious, believe in myself and remain calm.”
Her anxiety was reflected in her recruiting visits. Over the summer, she spoke of building a close relationship with her future coaches – whoever it might be – but didn’t seem affected when Alabama distance coach Adam Tribble took a head coaching job in July and was replaced by Will Palmer.
“All these visits were kind of difficult for me,” she admitted. “On all my official visits, they were all fairly similar and they were all fantastic. I would be grateful to attend any of them, which is why the decision was difficult. Having good relationships and vibing with each other is important, but also the team. When I met Coach Palmer, he was fantastic. He was new but he’s not new to running, just Alabama. We talked a lot and I trust him and I think it’s going to be great.”
Interestingly enough, Alabama’s biggest selling point for Tyynismaa wasn’t its head coach, Dan Waters, or even its distance coach, Will Palmer, but rather Palmer’s wife Samantha.
“His wife is a volunteer coach, so that’s also cool to have a lady with you at practice,” she said.
Alabama’s program hasn’t fared well in recent years at the conference championships, finishing ninth in cross country, eighth in indoor track and ninth in outdoor track. That didn’t seem to faze Tyynismaa, who stood alone for four years as the individual cross country champion until her Catholic teammates finally joined her this year in the Knights’ first-ever cross country title.
“There’s another talented girl coming in, so I’m optimistic,” she said, referring to the Tide’s other distance signee, Allison Wilson of Montgomery (Texas) High. “Every year is different.”