Girls cross country: KV’s Michelle Kent has made move to join area’s elite
By Dave Melton Post-Tribune correspondent October 18, 2012 11:28PM
Kankakee Valley's Michelle Kent runs the course during a NCC meet on Saturday, in Lowell. Kent placed third with a time of 19:26. | Scott R. Brandush~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 20, 2012 11:12AM
DEMOTTE — It was only a matter of time before Michelle Kent started moving to the front of the pack.
After a stellar middle school career, Kent began the next phase of her sports journey as a freshman on the Kankakee Valley cross country team last fall. Modest success greeted her that year, as Kent received first-team all-conference honors in the NCC.
At the 2011 Rensselaer Sectional, four Kougars: Allison Rockley, Kaylin Orsburn, Brittany Stepp and Kent finished in the top eight, leading KV to a second-place team finish. That Kougars squad ended the 2011 season with a 13th-place finish at the New Prairie Semistate.
“That season wasn’t a disappointment at all,” said Kent, who finished eighth at sectionals, 34th at regionals and 77th at semi-state. “I was just running with my teammates. The four of us were as close as we’d been since sixth grade. But I got a lot better.”
Last spring, Kent was part of a KV track team that won the NCC title, a season that served as a launching pad into Kent’s current cross country season.
“I saw a lot of confidence building in her during the track sectional and regional,” said KV cross country coach Lane Lewallen. “It really carried over into her workouts. (Boys cross country coach) Tim Adams and I noticed in the summer that she was very, very strong and that’s been real evident from the very first meet.”
Kent attributed her progression as a runner to an increased workload over the summer.
“I added a ton of mileage this summer,” she said. “I took it a lot more seriously, running well over 40 miles per week. Last year, that would’ve seemed overwhelming.”
Early in the season, that progression showed on the course as Kent started competing with some of the top runners in the area. At a September triangular meet, she finished in first place ahead of Andrean’s Becca Conley. One week later, she was in third place behind Griffith’s Taylor Austin and Hobart’s Celena Guerrero at another triangular meet.
“I was surprised,” Kent said of competing with some of the region’s best. “I’d look up to runners like Taylor and Becca and, all of a sudden, I was running right next to them.”
When championships started being awarded in late September, Kent was at her best. She took third at the NCC Invitational, setting a personal record by 17 seconds. Ten days later, at the Rensselaer Sectional meet, Kent finished in first place, leading the Kougars to a team championship as well.
At the New Prairie Regional on Saturday, Kent finished with a time of 19:36, good enough for seventh place. Compared to her 2011 performance, Kent jumped 27 spots while shaving 1:46 off her time.
“That’s a remarkable improvement,” said Lewallen. “She’s worked very hard to get to this point, and she’s running significantly faster than last year.”
Added Kent: “Looking at my time, it still blows me away.”
She’ll be the lone Kougars runner competing in Saturday’s New Prairie Semistate, as her team failed to qualify. But that hasn’t diminished Kent’s goals for the weekend.
“I’m just going to run my best and hope for something good to come out of it,” she said. “Based on time alone, I’m ranked 21st. If I set a new PR, I could make it. It’ll have to be a good race.
“Looking at my time, it still blows me away. Oh wow, I just ran another race way under 20, that’s still really neat. Last five races or so, I was consisntently running in the 19s so I guess it’s leveling out.”