Wed. December 18, 2013 at 10:25 p.m. | By McLeod Brown | StarNews Correspondent | firstname.lastname@example.org
Laney's Kerry Leonard player of the year in cross country (Photo by Mike Spencer)
For some high school students, being a part of a sports team offers the chance to try one's luck at competition outside the classroom. For others, it is simply something to occupy a few more hours of the day.
In Kerry Leonard's case, being a part of the Laney cross country squad meant one thing: jackets.
"My friends were going to do it," Leonard said. "Coach (Sam) Bobbitt came to Noble (Middle School) to recruit people during lunch one day, during eighth grade. My friends wanted to do it to get cool jackets, because they thought that's what you do when you get onto high school teams."
The senior's decision to begin running proved to be a fruitful one, culminating in her being named this year's StarNews All-Area Runner of the Year.
The process of becoming a two-time Mideastern Conference champion and three-time state qualifier was not easy, however, as Leonard quickly had second thoughts about her decision.
"I didn't really like it at the beginning, and I didn't think I was good, so I quit, until right before school started," Leonard said. "My friends made me come back. Also the coach, he didn't know I quit because I went to New York for like a month. I wasn't going to tell him I was quitting, I just told him I was going to New York for a month, so he assumed I was going to run there, but I didn't."
Leonard experienced an average first cross country season before success in another sport forced her to realize her potential, as she broke the mile record for Laney during her freshman track season.
Leonard's final two years at Laney have seen her dominate the conference competition, capturing the individual title each year.
Leonard also climbed to the top of the region as well, winning the Class 4A East meet in October after finishing third in 2012. Her progress also was reflected at the state championships, building from 40th to 31st to 16th in her final run in November. She ran her high school best in that final race, 18 minutes, 28.98 seconds.
"I used to run with my friend in the back of varsity," Leonard said of her freshman year. "We would run 22's and fool around on the course, and try to have fun, not really race. (Bobbitt) told me I needed to go faster because I do have the potential.
"Freshman year was a big change, from quitting to running 20's. Otherwise, he's always there, always at the long runs. Even though I don't want to do some of the workouts, he makes me."
Bobbitt, a former runner at UNCW, noticed the change in Leonard from a timid freshman to a strong-willed senior.
"It's a core group of girls," Bobbitt said. "Together they all mean a lot. They make the team successful. Each year, she's taken on more of a leadership role and tried to set an example, through either saying it or motivating through her actions."
In becoming a measuring stick for rival competition around the area, the constant four to five mile runs during the week, coupled with 10- to 12-mile runs on Saturday have left Leonard little time for much else, something she wouldn't change.
"You meet so many different people from so many different teams, not even in the conference, but around the state," Leonard said. "Going to hotels and invitationals, something about seeing people when they're at their worst running and trying hard, it makes you bond."
Although she is undecided on where to attend college, Leonard is confident she'll end up running at her chosen school.
Becoming the top runner in the area, Leonard received almost all the honors and trophies she could during her extraordinary high school career.
Except for one thing.
"We didn't even get the jackets," she said. "I bought myself a jacket."
All-Area Girls Cross Country
Kerry Leonard, Laney, Sr. (Player of the Year): Won New Hanover County, Mideastern Conference and Class 4A East titles. Placed 16th at 4A state meet.
Julia Boudreau, Ashley, So.: Overcame appendix surgery to finish fourth at county meet and 71st at the 4A state meet.
Madeline Hulbert, Hoggard, So.: Placed ninth in the 4A East region meet in season-best 19:39.
Sarah Pellizari, Hoggard, Fr.: Took third in the New Hanover County and Mideastern Conference championship meets.
Abigail Rackley, Laney, Sr.: Finished fifth at Mideastern Conference meet and closed career 74th in the 4A state meet.
Rachel Snider, Hoggard, Sr.: Claimed second in the New Hanover County and Mideastern Conference championship meets.
Rachel Walter, New Hanover, Sr.: Posted personal-best 19:55 at 4A East meet and placed seventh at conference meet.
Madison Creech, Whiteville; Sarah Miller, New Hanover; Sara Silika, Ashley; Sydney Thuman, Hoggard; Victoria Tronzo, Laney.
Honors: Player of the Year–Kerry Leonard, Laney. Coach of the Year–Pam Mitchell, Hoggard. Team Sportsmanship Award: South Brunswick.
First Team: Kerry Leonard, Laney; Rachel Snider, Hoggard; Sara Pellazzari, Hoggard; Madeline Hulbert, Hoggard; Abigail Rackley, Laney; Sara Silika, Ashley; Rachel Walter, New Hanover
Second Team: Victoria Tronzo, Laney; Sydney Thuman, Hoggard; Sarah Miller, New Hanover; Elizabeth Magill, Hoggard; Haley Smithwick, Laney; Clara Seifert, New Hanover; Jane Moody, New Hanover.
Three Rivers Conference
Honors: Runner of the Year–Madison Creech, Whiteville. Coach of the Year–Will Dorn, Whiteville.
First Team: Whiteville–Madison Creech, Ivey Long, Marilu Castrejon, Margaret High, Zoey Barton, Grace Morningstar; Red Springs–Daisy Valquez, Rocia Penia, Shania Leach. South Robeson–Chantara Chavis.
CAPE FEAR INDEPENDENT CONFERENCE
All-Conference: Cape Fear Academy–Noelia Martinez, Emily Esposito.