It took a while for Megan Cassidy to find a place for running in her busy schedule.
An early English history buff, the Portage senior plans to study abroad in college. She's involved in National Honor Society, student council, orchestra and academic decathlon, and also volunteers at the nursing home where her mom works.
"I do so much, running is like my out to everything I do," Cassidy said. "When I need a break in life, I go on a run to kind of relax. Once I found the time, I knew I could only get better."
That she has. In only two years of cross country, Cassidy has blossomed into one of the Indians' top runners, leading them to another state berth with her 16th-place finish at the New Prairie Semistate.
"She's a big reason we're back at state," coach Jay White said. "If she hadn't run like she did, we're maybe sitting at home."
It sure wouldn't have figured a few years ago. Cassidy's first try at high school sports came as a sophomore, when she joined the track team and was slotted into the sprints.
"That didn't work out too well," she said with a laugh.
As a freshman, Cassidy came out for cross country but didn't stick with it. Coaxing by some friends prompted her to give it another try last year.
"Running was hard, but the people on the team made me want to stick with it," she said. "I love them all. I decided, 'hey, I'm kinda good at this.' I really liked it, so I kept doing it."
Cassidy debuted on varsity at the Culver Academy Invitational in 2010 and held her lineup spot throughout the postseason.
"She has some natural ability," White said. "We saw her freshman year and thought the potential was there. It was just a matter of getting her there. It just started all coming together. She just kept dropping time, being more consistent."
The ball now rolling, Cassidy kept the momentum going through track, qualifying for the regional in the 3,200. Her sprinting days were long gone.
"She started believing, getting more confidence in what she can do," White said.
After doing little preseason training as a junior, Cassidy started coming to summer workouts with classmate Bri Cipich. The stronger base only fueled her ascent. Cassidy has been in Portage's lead trio all season, finishing top 10 in conference, sectional and regional.
"The strength of her race is the second half," White said. "We noticed it a lot during track. The last 800, she was always reeling people in. Every race, maybe she doesn't go out with the frontrunners, but we're never too worried because she gets going pretty good that last mile."
At semistate, Cassidy knocked 42 seconds off last year's time. She'll look to do the same Saturday at state, where she finished 146th last season.
"I think it'll be easier because I know the course this year," said Cassidy, who's hoping for at least a top 60 showing. "I'll know where I'm going. It's my last high school race. I'm going to give it my all. There's no harm in passing out at the finish line as long as I finish my race."