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Riverview breakout runner Kennedy wiser in second season

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 10:27 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Colin Martin of Fox Chapel crosses the finish line towin the Red, White and Blue Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Schenley Park.

Many of cross country's subtleties only recently became apparent to Molly Kennedy, who picked up the sport after dropping volleyball slightly more than a year ago.

Each race against quality competition this fall revealed a bit more nuance — the arts of pacing and passing, or when to start a kick — to the Riverview sophomore.

That might worry some of Kennedy's opponents, because Riverview's top runner fared well as a raw talent.

A more refined Kennedy enters this season's WPIAL cross country championships with a chance to win. In her freshman debut, Kennedy placed 10th in Class A.

“(This season) definitely helped me be confident for WPIALs instead of being a nervous wreck like I was last year,” said Kennedy, who set course records at Riverview and Kittanning, won the Freedom Invitational and placed in the top eight at two other major races.

The championships, held at Cooper's Lake in Slippery Rock, begin with the Class A girls race at 12:45 p.m. and conclude with the Class AAA boys race, which starts at 4:30 p.m. The top 15 individual finishers and top three teams in each race qualify for the state championships, which are Nov. 2 in Hershey.

Riverview's girls team, which won the Section 4-AA title, goes much deeper than just Kennedy. Senior Nicole Anderson, juniors Tessa Favo and Jocey Ostrowski, and sophomore Maddie Kocur possess the skills to push the Lady Raiders through to the PIAA meet. Using Kennedy, Anderson, Favo, Ostrowski and Kocur, Riverview placed sixth a year ago.

“This year has definitely had a lot more work put into it,” Kennedy said. “The team wants it more.”

At some point Thursday, though, Kennedy must break away from her teammates and move to the front. She prefers to start slower and chase down the leaders, but she learned at the Grove City Invitational on Oct. 5 that she must stay ahead of the general herd.

“In the beginning, I got caught up,” said Kennedy, who ultimately took third at Grove City. “They just cut me off in the middle, so then I had to play a game of catch-up for the second mile, and I kind of panicked.

“It was really interesting to see those girls run, and their strategies. … That one taught me a lesson.”

While the Class A girls race features no clear favorite — the defending champion graduated — the final competition on Thursday likely will come down to a simple question: Which Martin wants it more?

Fox Chapel senior twins Ethan and Colin Martin are the brightest stars in the cross country scene this season. Colin Martin beat his brother for the first time in his career on Sept. 7 at the Red, White and Blue Invitational in Schenley Park. He won the race, which included 279 finishers.

Ethan Martin, who placed third in that meet, won the Tri-State Coaches Association Championship at Cooper's Lake on Oct. 17. He topped a field of 600 finishers, and Colin took third.

The Martins, both of whom committed to Michigan, became the obvious WPIAL title frontrunners once Kiski Area senior Brent Kennedy no longer was an option. Kennedy, the 2012 WPIAL champion and PIAA runner-up, will miss the meet because of a suspected stress fracture in his lower right leg.

“Cross country is all about working hard with the best talent,” Ethan Martin said. “Seeing Brent out ... to have him not race with us, it's going to take something away. He pushes us. We push him.”

Neither Martin has won a WPIAL cross country title. Ethan, who won the WPIAL 1,600- and 3,200-meter titles in track, enters with a bit more momentum because he won the Tri-State Coaches Association crown. But the Red, White and Blue meet opened Colin's eyes to his own potential.

“For a while, I was content with always being second and just trying to beat Brent or some of the other top guys in the WPIAL,” Colin Martin said. “But now I know what I can do.”

Colin Martin also enters the title race healthy, while Ethan Martin has dealt with Achilles tendinitis in his left leg the past few weeks.

“It's still going to be tough, but I'll take my victories when I can get them,” Colin said. “I've got to believe it'll hinder him, but he's a fighter, so he'd probably run even with a broken ankle.”

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