BUENA PARK — The comparison is a logical one to make.
Everyone who has seen freshman Heather Garritson run this season has been reminded of her older sister, Carrie.
Carrie Garritson left the high school scene as the first to earn four trips to the Foot Locker National Championships.
Three short months after Carrie graduated from Buena Park and left for Alabama, Heather stepped into the spotlight her sister had run so many miles in.
So just when opposing runners and their coaches thought they might have seen the last of the Garritson dominance, 13-year-old Heather moved to the forefront.
The sisters are similar in many ways, including how they win races.
This fall, Heather is undefeated after the Laguna Hills, Woodbridge and Sonora invitationals, as well as three Freeway League meets.
The race that brought her to everybody's attention was the first of the season and her first high school race--the Laguna Hills Invitational--in which she posted the day's only sub-18 minute mark for three miles. Racing against an all-freshman field, Garritson (17 minutes 41 seconds) topped the next best runner by 2:09. She was named a Times Orange County athlete of the week for her efforts.
The next weekend, Garritson chewed up a tougher field, running 18:25 at Woodbridge despite getting lost--just as her sister had done the year before.
The differences between the sisters?
"I'm a lot more talkative than Carrie," Heather said. "That is something that people notice about me right off. Sometimes it gets me in trouble."
Her father, Mike Garritson, agrees.
"There is no doubt she is much more talkative," said Garritson, who has coached Heather since she began running at age 4. "She has a little more speed than Carrie, but not the work ethic in practice. But when it comes to the big race, Heather just seems to get the job done. Some kids are just like that."
Getting the job done is exactly what Heather did this past weekend at the Orange County Championships at Irvine Regional Park, where she finished third in the team sweepstakes race featuring the county's finest.
After running with Esperanza's Courtney Pugmire in the lead for much of the three-mile race, Garritson faded to finish third in 17:54, behind eventual winner Tracy Clark of Corona del Mar and Pugmire.
Clark, having raced Carrie and Heather, noticed many similarities.
"I don't know if they use the same strategy, but they both just get out there and go from the start. They look the same, too."
About the only place Heather hasn't proven herself is on the track, where she hasn't competed since age 11.
"I love cross-country for some reason," said Heather, who ran 3,000 meters in 10:11 as a sixth-grader. "It's more competitive than track, going up the hills . . . it just gives you more of a challenge."
Mike Garritson figured Heather's break from track was a healthy one, allowing her maturing body to catch up to her racing success.
"I stopped her racing two years ago because she was growing so much," he said. "She is considerably taller and much, much stronger than Carrie was at this point."
That strength is what Heather hopes will help her achieve some lofty goals in her first high school season.
Heather not only wants to eventually match Carrie's feat of making four national teams, but also become only the second freshman to win the individual championship.
"If I can't be the first freshman to win it all, then I at least want to be the second to win it all," she said, referring to last season's victory by freshman Erin Davis from Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
"If Heather runs a good time at (the CIF) State (Championships in Fresno on Nov. 26), then we will look at going to Foot Locker," Mike Garritson said. "Otherwise we will go to the AAU's again. The same thing happened with Carrie."
The Amateur Athletic Union championships are commonplace to Heather, who has won the last six cross-country titles in age-group races, as Carrie did before her.
If Heather is uncomfortable about being compared to her older sister, she doesn't show it.
"She's the perfect role model," Heather said. "Perfect grades, the perfect runner . . .
"I just don't like being asked if I am better than her, because I don't know yet."
Predicted her father: "There is no doubt that Heather has the ability to outdo Carrie. I've seen her and I know it's possible.
"Those are going to be some big shoes to fit into, but I think she can do it."