By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
SOUTH PASADENA – Within five seconds of meeting Zoe Detzel – “Detzel like a Pretzel,” she helps you pronounce and spell her name – you can’t help but smile. And not long after you’ll find yourself laughing with her.
That’s just who Zoe Detzel is, a senior who in just one year at South Pasadena High School has made an impact that will leave a lasting impression after she moves back home to Pennsylvania. But before that happens (exactly one month from now), Detzel will compete in the 300 hurdles at this weekend’s CIF-Southern Section Track and Field Championships at Mt. SAC.
Detzel moved to California with her mom, Deb, who took a job as the academic director at the USC Language Academy. Detzel joined her in the year-long move to keep her company. She was happy to join her mother while her father and six siblings stayed in Pennsylvania.
“I wanted to move out here because I love to meet new people,” she said, and that’s pretty evident as she’s always surrounded by new friends.
Detzel is used to moving. She grew up in York, Pa., and also lived an hour outside of Philadelphia in Oxford, where it was common to be among the Amish.
“Yeah, we saw them,” Detzel said. “You guys have a farmer’s market here in South Pasadena. Let me tell you it’s not a Farmer’s Market. They actually grow (the food) and sell it.”
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She attended two high schools in Oxford before transferring to South Pasadena, and Detzel didn’t really need to attend if she didn’t want to.
“I needed only one credit to graduate,” she said. “I was really praying about it and wondered if I should be at this school or just go to (Pasadena City College) and take the exit exam. But the thought of not running track in my last year would make me sad.”
So after running cross country in the fall Detzel introduced herself – wide smile and all – to South Pasadena track coach PJ Hernandez.
“We weren’t sure what she had to offer us,” Hernandez said. “She came up to me in the offeseason and said she’s a hurdler and that she’s from Pennsylvania.”
Hernandez extended an invitation to tryouts. Detzel has run track since seventh grade and has been part of several youth track teams along with running high school track in Pennsylvania. Her talents quickly were on display.
But more than that, Detzel exhibited the kind of leadership coveted in seniors, and Hernandez found himself in a bind.
“I talked to her and told her, `I’m a little hesitant to make you captain because it’s your first year here,”‘ Hernandez said.
But Detzel was so well-liked and respected among her friends and teammates it wasn’t long before her easygoing demeanor and respect for the sport made it easy for Hernandez to change his mind.
“After spring break I made her an overall captain,” he said. “She’s one of four captains on the girls team, but I made her the general of all captains. She’s the go-to person if you need anything. She’s the main liasion between coaches and athletes, and she hasn’t failed.”
Detzel joined seniors Kaylee Anderson and Kellyna Fox and junior Samantha Amido as captains.
“It was a huge blessing and huge compliment,” Detzel said.
It’s easy to understand why Hernandez made the move.
“Leadership is about forming relationships, not about being powerful,” Detzel said. “Everything I do I try my hardest. Every single second in your life counts. You can choose to waste it or make it count.”
Hernandez describes her as bubbly.
“Everything out of her mouth is positive,” Hernandez said. “I can’t tell when she’s having a bad day.”
Detzel said she’s just an honest person. Maybe too honest.
“I’m super-honest,” she said. “I’m the kind of person where if my friends do something illegal I would gladly call the cops on them, but I’ll be like `I’ll visit you in jail,’ but I’m not going to lie.”
Detzel hoped to make this weekend’s finals, but she had more than her goals in mind.
“I was happy I made CIF (finals),” she says, “but I was more excited that she didn’t have to train alone.”
“She” would be freshman Nina Acebo, a standout hurdler who is showing considerable promise. Acebo finished fourth at last week’s prelims and Detzel was sixth.
The senior-freshman duo have formed an unlikely friendship that’s made an impression on and off the track.
“These two are attached at the hip,” Hernandez says. “I know they’re in high school. but one’s maybe 14 and the other is 18 already. Just any age in life for them to find each other it’s really cool to see. I feel when Zoe graduates Nina will have some withdrawls. Zoe’s just a great leader as far as someone to lean on and get advice from.”
Detzel, who also credited hurdles coach and former USC standout Logan Taylor for improving her speed and time, balances school and track with work as a hostess at South Pasadena’s new Canoe House Restaurant. She keeps herself busy and already has lined up a job as a lifegaurd when she spends her summer with her sister in Maryland.
Detzel looks forward to studying nursing at Eastern University in Philadelphia.
“Zoe’s been a blessing to have,” Hernandez said. “And for us to have her just for this one year it’s kind of bittersweet. She’s touched us all and graced us with her attendance and her presence.
“She’ll be missed, for sure.”