By Pete Chiodo
2013 Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year: Reilly Walsh
School: Cambridge Springs High School
Vitals: Walsh was untouchable in Region 3 this season. She was the top female runner in each of the region tri-meets she competed in, including a home meet against Conneaut and Saegertown that sealed up this year’s Region 3 championship for the Lady Blue Devils. Then she ended the season with one big achievement after the other, beginning with a first-place finish at the Rocky Grove Invitational, another top time in the Region 3 Invitational at the Cambridge Springs course, her first-ever District 10 title run, and then a career-best 11th-place finish at the PIAA Class A championship race.
Season highlights: Certainly, that would be Walsh’s string of victories at the end of the year. That late-season success showed just how Walsh conducted the 2013 campaign — as one big competitive crescendo. The running season started with a somewhat disappointing 20th place finish at the McDowell Invitational. And Cambridge head coach Cathy Shader admits that Walsh was “A little freaked out at the McDowell Invitational. I wasn’t concerned. I told her, ‘This is fine. You don’t want to come out gangbusters the first meet and peak too early.’ I know she wasn’t happy. But personally, I thought, ‘You’re good.’ McDowell didn’t mean anything to me. It was just another training day. ... And after McDowell she just progressed beautifully.” After McDowell, Walsh’s invitational performances began improving. She started building steam in region meets. And by the time the postseason rolled around she was right where she needed to be. Even so, a district title was far from a sure thing for Walsh. She had been chasing a number of Class A girls in invitationals all year, including runners from the always competitive West Middlesex and North East programs. Yet on Oct. 26 at the Buhl Farm Park course in Hermitage, Walsh put on a show. She overtook all the Class A girls that had bested her in invitational races throughout the year. And not only that, Walsh’s championship-winning time of 19:37 was tied for the fastest girls time of the day in any classification (Hickory’s Lexi Bible also posted a run of 19:37 to win the Class AA race). So of the 13 District 10 girls that beat Walsh at the McDowell Invite back on Aug. 31, she was faster than every one of them come Oct. 26.
What the coach says: “It was a really nice progression for her,” said Shader. “Every week she seemed to come a little further, a little further. It was just a nice season. ... I think she’s gained a lot of confidence. You can see that. She knows that when she gets to that starting line that she’s put in the work. She’s gained a lot of maturity, a lot of leadership with her teammates. She’s stepped forward at times and got her teammates going. She was very focused this year, very driven, no doubt about it”
What we say: Walsh had already been one of the top female runners in the county, taking the Meadville Tribune’s Co-Player of the Year honors in both her freshmen and sophomore seasons at Cambridge Springs High School, sharing them with teammate Olivia Mamula, who won last year’s individual title at the district meet. And while Mamula season was certainly a successful one (she was fourth at districts and placed 29th at states), Walsh managed to separate herself this season, both from Mamula and from the rest of the talented runners in Crawford County, with her first D-10 title and her second straight state medal. All this, and she’s still got a year to go. It’s going to be fun to see what she can accomplish as a senior.