Four individuals were crowned champions Wednesday in the Dick Malloy Invitational, and they all shared one thing in common: none ran cross country as a freshman.
Archbishop Hoban senior Katie Frego won her third consecutive Blue Division girls crown at Goodyear Heights Metro Park in Akron.
The three who joined her on the top spot were Coventry sophomore Tucker Pearce, who earned the Blue Division boys title, and two Marlington athletes, senior Tori Reeves in the girls Gold Division and junior Ty Raybuck in the boys Blue Division.
The four athletes completed the 3K course and left the park optimistic about this season. The divisions were based on enrollment size and composed of five to six teams.
“I never wanted to do cross country because I would go to my brother’s meets when he was in high school and I would see people fainting across the finish line,” said Frego, who won in 11:56. “He is 5 years older than me. I remember watching that and being like: ‘Mom, I am never going to do this.’ I did tennis my freshman year during the fall and then did track in the spring. After doing track, I loved running. Sophomore year, I gave cross country a chance. In grade school, I never ran. I did soccer and basketball.”
Reeves, a former volleyball and soccer player, won in 11:29. Raybuck clocked a 9:47.
“I played football from fifth grade up until 10th grade,” Raybuck said. “I played freshman year and then came out for cross in 10th. I was a cornerback and a wide receiver. Watching track kids like [Dukes senior] Thomas Mason encouraged me to run cross. I was pretty good at distance in track. I wasn’t starting in football and I was pretty small, so I said: ‘Hey, why not try a different sport?’ My dream was to make it to the NFL like almost every other kid’s dream. That wasn’t going to happen, though.”
Pearce, who finished in 10:14, said he formerly played football, too. He converted from a safety to a first-place finisher in his opening meet Monday against Ellet and Springfield.
“I pulled out into first and I just tried to keep the lead the whole time,” Pearce said. “I got pushed real hard around the one curve, and that is when I decided to kick real hard.”
Pearce, who is 5-foot-6 and 120 pounds, credited coaches Erin Malcolm and Faith Phillabaum for helping him improve.
Raybuck, who is 5-10 and 145, also competes in wrestling and track just like Pearce.
“I am happy with my time,” Raybuck said. “I was getting cramps a lot and I was trying to run with my teammate, Thomas Mason, who came up behind me [to finish second].
“Most people don’t like it, but I love heat. I believe the warmer it is, the better I run.”
Dukes coach Bob Dagenhardt is happy Raybuck gave cross country a try.
“He had an outstanding season last year in cross country,” Dagenhardt said. “We qualified as a team to state, but he would have qualified as an individual in his first year as a sophomore. He was fourth at the regional meet at Boardman.”
Reeves’ time could have been four or five seconds faster, but she momentarily dashed off the course before getting back on the right path.
“I should have known the course better,” Reeves said with a laugh. “I thought that was the way. That was my fault. I probably could have had a little faster time, but that is OK.”
Reeves said she felt the humidity while running, but battled through it.
“I thought she did very well today, considering the stress fracture she had from last year,” Dukes coach Molly Middleton said.
Frego also overcame a stress fracture, which kept her out of running until mid-July.
“This is my last year and I wanted to try my best,” Frego said. “It is a little hot outside and a little humid. I just told myself: ‘No regrets, just keeping on pushing through. There were a lot of fans out here today. There was a lot of support that helped me get through.”
Hoban coach Joe Zampino was thrilled to see Frego bounce back from an injury.
“The thing about Katie Frego is she is a hard worker,” Zampino said. “She gives you a 100 percent. She had a little setback in track last year, but she has recovered. She really makes it on running form. Her form is impeccable. She is a great person and a great leader.”
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.