MARION ― Casey Kimball surprised herself a few weeks ago and continues to do so.
Sophomore Pleasant, who competed in the Division III Women’s Cross Country Championships as a rookie, ran 19:47 at the North Union Invitational on Oct. 1.
“I knew it was the best course, but doing PR like that, I didn’t expect it to be this good in this race,” she said. “It makes me think I’m a lot better than I feel. I may be in pain, but I know I can push myself even harder when it’s even 30 degrees outside.”
Kimball followed that up with a top 10 finish last weekend at the 20th Marion Harding Cross Country Invitational, recording another under-20 time of 19:54.
“I’m definitely proud of that era,” she said of her endeavors to Harding. “That’s what I run in the state, so that tells me I’m getting better.”
That she hits those marks without really trying to post cheering fast times. Elite cross-country racers like Kimball don’t want to show peak performance for another month. These early results show she has faster days ahead, which only adds to the confidence.
“I think she’s a lot smarter and her confidence is a lot higher,” Pleasant cross country coach Beth Lichtenberger said. “She knows what she’s capable of. She was battling injury towards the start of the season, and she’s really hitting her stride at the right time. To still be under 20 today is great, and she’s exactly where she wants to be.”
Last year, everything was new for her in first grade. Every meeting and every lesson turned out to be an experience, but so did the training. She learned a lot in 2021 and applies those lessons in 2022.
“I learned that I had to keep running, even on rest days,” Kimball said. “It’s going to help me a lot because if I don’t do it I’m going to keep hurting myself and I’m going to go back. I’ve definitely learned that I have to stay positive at the start of the race and not think about what which might hurt, but think about what doesn’t hurt and see how fast I can go.”
Business resumes for Kimball and all cross-country runners starting Saturday. The conference championships take place this weekend with the Mid Ohio Athletic Conference competing at 9 a.m. at Galion’s Amann Reservoir Park. Next weekend, the pre-state playoff districts meet at Fortress Obetz on Nov. 5.
“I have to make sure I stay on track and not lose the strength that I’ve gained,” Kimball said. “I need to drink lots of water and eat healthy and keep training. Right now I’m just looking at one spot because I’ve already reached my goal with time. If I get a better timing is great, but I like to place in the big competitions.”
The Pleasant Boys cross country team enters the most important point of the season looking to rekindle the magic of a year ago when the Spartans finished as MOAC finalists and made the regionals in as a Division II team.
“I don’t really know what to expect,” Lichtenberger said. “It’s been a funny year. They did so well last year and (there’s) the pressure to step up and do better.”
Pleasant got off to a fast start with encouraging efforts, finishing second at the Northmor Invitational and the Bucyrus Elks Invitational and winning the Wynford Invitational to start the season. The Spartans followed that up with a seventh at the Galion Cross Country Festival and a ninth at the Denny Stevens Invitational at Kokosing Dam in Fredericktown.
Pleasant bounced back from boring performances to finish second at North Union but settled for 10th out of 21 teams on Saturday at Harding.
“It wasn’t great, but it was okay,” Lichtenberger said of their last performance. “The boys were doing well. Most of them ran like their second best times of the season, but I feel like they can still do better. They always want to run fast on this course because it’s is one of their favorites. I was satisfied.”
Sophomore Will Lichtenberger has been their most consistent player this season, while Nick Swartz and Caleb Cameron have struggled with illness or injury throughout the year as other top runners in the team in the peloton.
Heading into the MOAC meeting, Pleasant finished behind Shelby and Highland on Saturday, but ahead of Ontario and the hosts. Also giving them hope is the fact that the boys will move up from D-II to Division III this post-season.
“Going to Division III, I’m not sure what to expect, but these next two weeks are important,” admitted the coach. “I still feel like they are nowhere near where their potential could be. We have a few weeks to see what we can get out of them.”
Saturday Conference Cross Country Meets
- Mid Ohio Athletic Conference at Galion’s Amann Reservoir Park, 9 a.m.
- Northwestern Central Conference at Hardin Northern, 9 a.m.
- Buckeye Central Conference in Shawnee, 9:30 a.m.
- Knox Morrow Athletic Conference at Kokosing Dam in Fredericktown, 10 a.m.