Two or three meets remain in Portage's season, but its most improved runner is already a foregone conclusion.
It's a no-brainer when you lower your best 5K time by nearly three minutes like Erin Reynolds has, from 23:08 to 20:22.
"We've had some kids who have improved a lot, but I don't think there's been anything quite like that," coach Jay White said. "She was our 15th, 16th, maybe 17th kid and she's been as high as third. We knew the talent was there. It was just a matter of the light bulb going on, her thinking, 'I like to do this, and I can be good at it if I'm committed to it."
As with most tales of marked turnarounds, there was a low point from which Reynolds had to rise. She came in as a freshman with high expectations — likely too high — for a newcomer with modest middle school credentials joining an experienced team. After a slow start, she was sidelined by shin splints that cost her half a season. She returned, only to have a disappointing finish in the JV conference meet.
"I didn't really know what to expect," Reynolds said. "I was thinking varsity and I was close, but pretty far away at the same time. I got hurt and I was pretty low. I didn't think I could do anything else. It was pretty upsetting."
Reynolds ran through the winter and got off to a good start in track, making the varsity 3,200 relay a few times before a knee flare-up sidelined her again. Disappointed but not deterred, she continued her progress through the summer.
"It kicked in," she said. "I figured out that I liked running a lot. Everything about me became more disciplined. I was a lot more determined than I ever thought I would be. I found out that I like to go on runs (alone) more. I'm one who thinks about a lot when I'm running. It's pretty much like an escape for me."
Her freshman struggles still in mind, Reynolds set more modest goals for this season, simply aspiring to letter. She expected more of herself as an individual runner and as a teammate.
"I felt responsible to set good goals for the freshmen, even the upperclassmen," she said. "Everybody can learn from everybody. With over half the varsity leaving, I knew it would be hard for us."
In her first race, Reynolds easily surpassed the letter-qualifying time of 22:50, and continued to post personal bests all season.
"It just goes to show what determination can do for you," she said. "I think when I feel I'm on a roll, I can keep going on a roll. Dropping three more minutes is kind of unrealistic, but the whole goal is to keep dropping times."
White prefers not to think about where the young Indians might be without Reynolds' breakthrough. She's a big reason they figure to be vying for a state berth in next week's semistate.
"It's a simple recipe," White said. "She knew she had to push herself. She's committed the time, effort and miles to it, and it's paying off big time."