Clare Valenza exceeds expectations for the second year in a row – News-Herald
It’s not often that an athlete abandons one sport for another. But that was the case for Gilmour’s Clare Valenza. The senior decided last year to trade the courts for the cross-country tracks.
During her junior year, Valenza took the sport by storm, as she finished in the top 10 in every competition, including third and fifth regionally and regionally, respectively. In the state meet, Valenza crossed the finish line 17th to earn a spot on the state podium and earn all-Ohio honors.
Despite the success at the start of her season a year ago, Valenza admitted she was nervous about taking up a new sport with no experience. As the year progressed, however, she grew in confidence and slipped into the Lancers’ second-place roster.
“I still remember the first meeting last year, standing on the line at Kenston and not knowing what to expect,” Valenza said. “I raced the CYO track as a kid, but mostly because my dad was the coach at the time. I’ve never been serious about racing, so being on that starting line for the first time, I was really nervous. I didn’t know how to run or what to expect, the coaches gave us a race plan. So I followed that and things went really well and it showed me that I could do it.
Valenza started running at the start of COVID-19 in order to stay in shape for the sport’s return. One thing led to another, she began to gain confidence as a runner while working on her basketball fitness.
However, during the time she spent running and training, she grew to love it and discovered a passion for running. So she started her cross country career as a junior.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but Valenza said she made the right decision.
She earned All-Ohio honors in her first year as a cross country runner. @GAlancerXC senior Clare Valenza talks about how she is entering her final year and second season as a full-time runner #NHXC pic.twitter.com/ZhxQ0MmrTB
— Ben Hercik (@BHercikNH) September 15, 2022
“The basketball coach at the time was very into fitness and I had a lot more free time for it, so I decided to start running to show that I could earn a place in the university,” Valenza said. “When I started I was doing two miles on the treadmill every other day and I couldn’t do it without stopping at points. Over time it got easier, I started running every day and one day i decided to go for a run with my dad i was just planning to do two or three miles but we ended up doing five miles and we were shocked i followed my sophomore year and everyone convinced me to try cross-country my freshman year.
Making the transition from one sport to another is difficult. But Valenza found its groove from the first starter gun.
Gilmour manager Matt Lindley said at the start of last season they needed someone to join Amy Weybrecht up front when they met. He didn’t know it would be the freshman runner.
Lindley said he saw early on that Valenza would develop as a runner throughout the season.
“A lot of it is down to his mental makeup,” Lindley said. “She’s a fierce competitor, she works hard, she’s easily coachable and does what she’s asked to do. She is eager to learn and improve, that really helps. A child who wants to come and do more and push themselves is great. She already had the tool set and it was about her getting there as a runner.
His thoughts came true, as Valenza clocked the best time of 18:55.30, which was fast enough for the sixth fastest time in Gilmour’s history.
Valenza gives the team a lot of credit last year by helping them adapt quickly to the sport. His work with Weybrecht up front as well as support from seniors Mary Lombardo and Mia Polisena helped his adjustment process.
Now a senior herself, Valenza knows how valuable that year of experience will be as the season progresses. His current best time is 19:46.08, the ninth fastest time in the coverage zone.
She also recorded a pair of top 10 finishes in all three Lancers meetings this season, with a best second at Avon Lake. Her only finish outside the top 10 came in the season opener at Riverside, where she placed 11th.
Valenza knows there is still room for improvement. With the Lancers in Division II, she knows that if the Lancers want to continue their 12-year streak of team qualifying, she wants to reach that next level as a runner.
“The most important thing for me was trying not to compare myself to last year,” Valenza said. “I try to enter the competitions without pressure but it’s always there and I put myself there. You look at Avon Lake, it’s a course we raced last year and I wanted to do a better time than last season but I didn’t so it was a little disappointing. But then I try to remember that the conditions are different and you can’t compare the years. I’m still really new to the sport and I’m still trying to overcome that mindset.