September 23, 2014

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Girls cross country 2013: Proof’s in the improving for Amherst junior Alexis Szivan

High expectations can be a burden, but Amherst junior Alexis Szivan doesn’t see it that way. Getting better is her only concern.

Szivan set a high standard for herself at last year’s state cross country meet, finishing 49th in the Division I race in 19:00.41. It was a personal best for her by nearly 18 seconds.

That came after a 20-second drop in time(19:18.36) at the Tiffin regional a week earlier propelled her to 13th overall and to the state meet.

“I’m looking forward to progressing, looking forward to racing faster times,” Szivan said. “I’m hoping our varsity has a pretty good season. We have a pretty good team this year. I’m hoping that we place well and can make it to state.”

The defending Southwestern Conference champ has won three league cross country titles, including two at the middle school level.

“Alexis is a very gifted athlete,” Amherst girls coach Terry Kemp said. “Her greatest strength is her remarkable ability to run fast over a wide range of races. She’s been a state qualifier both in cross country and in the 800 and 4×400, which gives her both the strength and speed she needs to be a successful runner at almost any distance. She’s in our top 10 all time at 400, 800, 1,600 and in cross country.”

Szivan had an outstanding track season in the spring, defending her SWC title in the 800 and qualifying to state in the same event, where she finished 13th. Szivan earned All-Ohio honors (top eight) as a member of the 1,600-meter relay, which finished fourth at state in a school-record time of 3:52.94. The time is also the second-fastest in Lorain County history.

“She was an outstanding middle school athlete, and you could see the same skills — the same range — back then as you do now,” Kemp said. “We’ve just tried to help her bring out the talent she already has. For a taller athlete, she runs hills extremely well.”

Three of Amherst’s top seven are back, but the majority of the team is young. Sixteen of the Comets’ 25 girls are new to high school cross country.

But tradition is on the Comets’ side: Amherst has qualified to regionals 23 times in 24 years.

“My goal is to run the race better, maybe not start off so fast,” said Szivan, who stands 5-foot-9. “Always know when to speed up.”

Szivan remains well-grounded. Although the state meet was a goal sophomore year, it was as difficult and challenging as expected.

“We have a very hard region,” she said. “I kind of psych myself out sometimes because I’m running against very good athletes, but I was very happy to make it last year when I finished 13th.”

So what was the key?

“Peaking at the right time,” Szivan said. “My coach really timed it up perfectly. My team really helps me a lot. Cassie (Vince) was always there to keep me positive and calm me down before a race. I really don’t think I would have done it without her because she really helped me a lot every single day for workouts and everything.”

Vince and Emily Johnson finished second and third, respectively, at conference behind Szivan. Both have graduated.

That doesn’t mean Szivan doesn’t have training partners, however.

“Megan Parker, who is a sophomore, along with Ashley Hauck and Cara Gianuzzi, they’ve been running with me mostly every day,” said Szivan. “I do have company. Some of the workouts are by myself, which is fine. I like the challenge of doing workouts by myself because it helps me to get a feel for my own pace. It’s hard sometimes, too, because I don’t have someone there pushing me.”

Contact Paul Heyse at 440-329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.