Sports has provided Kyra Ball a buffet of opportunities and the Portage sophomore has done her fair share of sampling.
Tennis, soccer, volleyball, basketball, swimming, cheerleading, and even a little diving and gymnastics.
From that smorgasbord, Ball eventually chose distance running as her main entree.
"I've played soccer all my life. I did it last winter, but it conflicted with running indoor so I stopped," Ball said. "I played basketball in seventh and eighth grade. I stopped swimming when I got into eighth grade. Diving, I only did like a summer. I got scared. Gymnastics, I did two years when I was really young."
Ball first tried running in fourth grade, doing Portage's elementary school race with classmate Vanessa Krause, a friend now at Chesterton.
"She told me to stay with her, so we did it together," Ball said.
Krause beat Ball, the point at which Ball realized she didn't like finishing second.
"I don't mind losing, but it motivates me a lot," she said. "I like competition. I guess that's what pushes me."
Ball joined the cross country team in sixth grade and the talent — her mom Kai ran track at Portage and her dad Nate played prep football in Colorado — quickly shined through. She won middle school conference titles in seventh and eighth grade.
"She's real strong, very athletic," Portage coach Jay White said. "She's a competitor. She works hard at whatever she does. On the race course, she goes out and gives everything she has."
As a freshman, Ball emerged as one of the top runners on a young Indians team. A bit reticent at first, she had to learn it was OK to finish ahead of the upperclassmen.
"She started to understand that to be successful, she had to be up front," White said. "The other girls aren't going to be upset. Don't worry about where you're at on the team, worry about the other color jerseys. That's the most important thing."
In time, the teammates that once intimidated Ball became a great source of strength, support and inspiration.
"Being an underclassmen, it was scary," she said. "Then we got really close. We connected. The team is close. They motivated me to get better. When we run, we push each other. We know our limits and we try to push past our limits. After a while, I knew what I was working for. By the end, I was expecting to do well."
Portage finished 21st at state, led by Ball, who was 74th, 10th among freshmen. In track, she reached the regional, finishing fifth in the 1,600.
"She learned a lot about how to train, understand why we do things, what you need to do to make yourself better," White said. "We started seeing it in track a lot more. She had a solid summer. She's got a year under her belt. Her confidence level is a lot higher going in."
Also an exemplary student, Ball hopes she and the team can build on last year's starting point.
"Since we were underclassmen, we didn't really do as good as state as we thought," she said. "It's so big. I was nervous. We have that experience now. My goal is to push myself to do my best for the team so we're in position to be successful, to get to state and do well."