After finishing second in the WPIAL Class AA cross country championships last season, West Allegheny junior Alexis O'Shea will enter this year's district meet as the favorite.
The amazing part is that O'Shea has only been running cross country full-time for the past two seasons.
"I never thought she'd be this good," West Allegheny cross country coach Jim Hamilton said. "I saw the talent there, but I didn't know if she'd pursue it like she has. Most people think of running as a punishment. But she has worked really hard."
O'Shea ran track and field as an eighth grader and also played soccer. But she signed up for cross country her freshman year, splitting time between Hamilton's team and the Indians soccer squad.
Despite not concentrating full-time in the sport, O'Shea finished 26th as a freshman at the WPIAL Class AAA cross country championships in 2011.
More importantly, she really enjoyed her time with the team. Which is why she gave up soccer and concentrated on running from that point forward.
"I really enjoy it," O'Shea said. "I love my teammates and it's just a great program. It makes me feel good."
It didn't take her long to show she was a contender during her sophomore season. In the first big meet of the season, the Red, White & Blue Classic, O'Shea placed eighth among all female runners, including many from Class AAA schools.
But with the Indians dropping to Class AA last season, her road to a WPIAL championship was easier.
At last season's WPIAL meet, she stayed with Uniontown's Julie Friend for the first 2 miles, but Friend pulled away down the stretch to finish 14 seconds ahead of O'Shea, who finished second.
O'Shea went on to finish eighth at the PIAA Class AA meet.
She wasn't surprised by her success in her first full season.
"I like to win things," O'Shea said. "It's fun when it's competitive and I just try my hardest."
One thing that really helps O'Shea is her speed. While she qualified for the PIAA track and field championships last season in the mile and the 800 meters, she also is very good at shorter races. She ran at states in indoor track and field in the 4 x 200 meter relay, and also runs the 400 meters in less than a minute.
So if she paces herself well, she has an advantage over many other runners in the final kick. Learning how to pace herself has been the area in which she has most improved this season.
"I've gotten more experience and learned how to race better," O'Shea said. "Before, I didn't know how to pace myself. This year I'm racing much smarter."
Her results have backed up her improvement. She has won two meets -- the PIAA Foundation in Hershey and the MAC championships -- and finished second in two others.
She also improved upon her finish in the Red, White & Blue Classic, placing fourth this season.
Now she'll get ready for the WPIAL Class AA meet next Thursday at Cooper's Lake Campground near Slippery Rock. She has her goal in mind and what it will take to get there.
"I definitely want to win the WPIAL and finish in the top five in the state," said O'Shea.
"I know I can't go out too fast [at Cooper's Lake]. I have to push through that last mile."hsother
First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM