Kalyn Alibozek was already the top runner on the Hoosac Valley girls’ cross country team at the end of last season. But that wasn’t good enough.
Her continued improvement through her first two high school seasons left her wanting even more. She wanted to be one of Berkshire County’s top runners.
"Even though I was coming in 20 to 25th place, I mean that’s still good, but I think that getting better made me want to get even better," Alibozek said. "It really made me want to make that big jump."
The day the cross country season ended last year, the then-sophomore decided she wanted to make some changes to improve on the cross country course. She changed her diet and followed coach Ron Namislo’s training guide religiously. She began to take swimming more seriously, and worked harder during the track season.
The improvements started to show during track when she came within 3 seconds of snapping the school record in the 1-mile race. She also improved greatly in the 2-mile race. But her improvement was just beginning to show.
"I saw improvement and wanted to keep growing," the junior said after finishing third at the Western Massachusetts Division II cross country championships. "I tried to run as much as I could over the summer. I just trained and tried to get in longer, harder runs. I really trained more."
Her third-place finish at Western Mass. highlighted the growth she’s experienced this season. She leaped 33 places from 2011. She finished 36th at the 2011 Western Mass. championships, which were also held in Northfield.
In addition to changing her diet and training regiment, she also added yoga. She says it has helped in several different ways. Not only does it help her stay flexible for races, but it relaxes her.
Entering the year, she knew her new routine would help her but she had no idea how much. Then she beat Mount Grey lock’s Emily Kaegi -- the defending Western Mass. champion -- in a scrimmage race.
"I just wanted to do better this year," Alibozek said. "I never thought I would be running with [Emily] and Kat [Chenail]."
She beat Kaegi twice this season, not including the scrimmage, and defeated Chenail three times during the regular season and twice more in the postseason. The only time she lost to Chenail was when she took a wrong turn at Taconic in the second meet of the season.
"I’m thrilled with what she’s been able to do this season," Namislo said. "She wanted to be better and she worked hard and did all the little things to get better."
Now that Alibozek is an upperclassman and an elite runner, it means she has to take on a larger leadership role for her young team. None of the top five runners this year were seniors.
Namislo is hoping that Alibozek’s improvement can be a driving force for her young teammates to take that next step.
"It’s quiet leadership with Kalyn," Namislo said. "She doesn’t say a lot, she’s really quiet. It’s more ‘look what I have done.’ She’ll talk to the kids, but it’s more of a quiet leadership role. She’s not a yeller or a screamer. She’s very quiet, and just shows what she can do."
The Hurricanes No. 2 and No. 3 runners are both sophomores. Sydnee Gallup and Hannah Folino both made big strides toward the end of the season, with Gallup qualifying for states.
The Hurricanes went 6-6 this season, but with Alibozek, Gallup and Folino all slated to return, that record could improve next year. Gallup and Folino are both sophomores. Cassidy McMahon will also return to the team next year, after finishing her freshman year as the 79th runner in Western Mass.
"I think what Kalyn has done is definitely motivation for a couple of kids on our team," Namislo said. "I think Hannah has looked at it and really said ‘Oh man, I can do that too.’
"I think for Syndee, I called it a breakout year, but this was really a wake-up call. It was like ‘If I want to be good, this is what I have to do.’ "
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