CUMBERLAND – Kylie DeFusco’s bid to pick up the second All-American honor of her young, outstanding career was a truly difficult one, and that’s not because the talented Cumberland High freshman had to compete against some of the country’s best runners in her age group at last Saturday’s USATF National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships.
Running at Kentucky’s scenic Bourbon County Park, DeFusco and the rest of the field had to contend with unfavorable weather, which included 30 mph wind gusts, and slick mud that covered most of the 2.48-mile course.
And while the meet was held just outside Lexington – in the city of Paris, which was tucked in the northeast corner of Kentucky – some 250 miles west on the other side of the state were the violent tornadoes that captivated the nation’s attention and wreaked havoc through eight states.
Nevertheless, the Clippers’ First-Team All-Stater and state freshman cross country champion, who ran for the Sentinel Striders’ youth running club, kept her focus on the race, and she overcame the adverse conditions to finish eighth out of 332 runners in the ages 13-14 race in a time of 16:06.9 and lock up her second All-American honor in the last three years.
“The mud and high winds on the day of my race definitely made it harder to run, but that’s what cross country is about,” DeFusco reported on Monday night. “The course was probably the muddiest I’ve ever ran on. People were falling all over the place and I almost slipped a couple times. It was kind of like running in sand because your feet would slide around a lot.”
“Two years ago (at the national meet) in Madison, Wisc., there were temperatures in the low 20s with wind chills in the teens,” added Striders assistant coach and Cumberland resident Jeff Souza. “These conditions were worse, but the kids stepped up though and ran great.”
The winner of the race was New Jersey standout Jessica Abbott, who clocked a time of 15:41.9, and only 7.1 seconds separated DeFusco from the 2nd-place finisher. That’s pretty impressive, considering the course’s conditions, as well as a few interruptions that prevented DeFusco from getting a good night’s sleep.
“The tornadoes that occurred on the other side of the state definitely affected my mindset and race last week,” added DeFusco. “At about 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, I was woken up by tornado warnings on my phone. Apparently, there was a possibility of another tornado in Georgetown, the city we were staying in.”
“Luckily, this never took place, but the town’s tornado sirens were going off until about 3 a.m. when we finally went back to sleep,” DeFusco continued. “While no actual tornado affected us, I was a little worried the next morning that I did not get enough sleep for a good race.”
Several Cumberland runners enjoyed good races last weekend, including Cooper Magill, who last month, captured titles in the boys’ ages 9-10 division in the USATF New England meet at Mine Falls Park in Nashua, N.H., and the Region 1 meet at Highland Park in Attleboro. Magill, who also runs for the Striders, took 29th place out of 258 runners by touring his 1.86-mile race in a time of 12:21.38.
The Striders saw their girls’ ages 11-12 group also place 10th in the team standings of their 1.86-mile race and two Cumberland runners help lead their charge. Cecilia Ludwig, who earlier last month, claimed the USATF New England title, took 35th place out of 346 runners in a time of 12:40.31 that was 0.22 quicker than her teammate, Lucy Walker, and Anna Bianchi placed 120th in 13:32.79.
Charlie McCue, who represented the North Cumberland Surge’s youth running club, also took part in the girls’ ages 13-14 race, and the R.I. middle school cross country champion took 47th place in 16:56.5.
In the boys’ ages 11-12 race, Cumberland native and Striders runner Will Souza placed 63rd in a time of 12:06.95, and three Cumberland runners were in the boys’ 13-14 division’s 2.86-mile race, the Surge’s Jake Schonhoff (104th place, 15:59.4) and Colin Peterson (159th, 16:32.1) and the Striders’ Noah Brown (192nd, 16:53.0).