But the pipeline that feeds Rough Rider track

By Tom Hardesty Record-Courier staff writer Published:

But the pipeline that feeds Rough Rider track athletes to the college campus is getting longer all the time.

The Kent Roosevelt track and field program is fast becoming a gold mine for its Kent State counterpart, stocking the Golden Flashes with high-caliber performers in a wide range of different events in recent years.

The former Rough Riders now involved in the Kent State track program include Jon Heflin, Bret Crews, Paul Verrona, Beth Benjamin and Heather Chizmar.

And now you can add the Kelly twins, David and Suzanne, to that list.

David Kelly, a senior distance runner for the Rough Riders, signed with the Flashes in mid-April. Suzanne Kelly, also a senior distance performer, has agreed to walk on at Kent State. Both will also run cross country.

"I think it says a lot about our program here," said Roosevelt girls track coach Brian Botzman. "We're a small Division I school, but at the same time we can be competitive with the bigger Division I teams. Our athletes are coming out of high school and being competitive at a higher level, but I hope what it really means is they're enjoying athletics."

The Kellys certainly are, each racking up impressive credentials in their four-year track and cross country careers at Roosevelt.

David finished 18th at the Division I state cross country meet last fall, earning all-state honors. He also won the district meet, took eighth in the regional and has won the Western Reserve Conference title twice. He has posted a career-best time of 16:07.

David went to the Division I state track meet in the 3,200 meters last year after finishing second at the regional. He has been a regional qualifier three times, won the WRC 3,200 title last season, and won both the WRC 1,600 and 3,200 titles this year.

His top times are 4:22.6 in the 1,600 and 9:26 in the 3,200.

"He's very disciplined and dedicated to running," said Roosevelt boys coach Aaron Carlton. "I think he'll help them right away. He's very driven."

Kelly said going to school close to home was an important factor, as well as the cost: his mother works at the university, so he can waive his scholarship and attend school basically for free.

"My mom works there, so that helps out with the price," he said. "Plus I can live at home, and that helps. I like to stay close to home _ we have a close-knit family, so there was no need to go away.

"Suzanne actually decided on Kent State first, and that helped me with my decision too. For my first year it'll help out quite a bit having her there. I'll have somebody to talk to."

Said Suzanne: "We'll get free tuition and I don't like going too far away from home. My mom and I both talked to him about going to Kent. We just thought it would be easier on everybody if he went to Kent."

David, who will run on a longer cross country course in college (eight kilometers or 10K compared to 5K in high school) and will compete in the 5,000 and 10,000 in track, said the longer the distance the better.

"It'll benefit me quite a bit," he said of the longer events he'll run in college. "When I run a 5K it seems like a sprint; it seems short. The two-mile is even worse. It just seems like I'm more comfortable running the longer distances.

"I get tired, but it's a different kind of tired than the shorter races. In shorter races, it's more of an obvious sharper pain, but in longer races my legs go numb and the pain goes away and I could run for another hour."

David expects to contribute at Kent State quickly.

"They're telling me I'll be about the fifth guy (in cross country), but I'm going to try to be about the third or fourth guy," he said. "And I expect to do well in track. I should be able to compete pretty well in the 10,000.

"The main adjustment for me will be learning to run with people. When I run with a lot of people in a pack I get nervous, because I don't have control ... I can't do what I want. In dual meets (in high school) I do well because I'm usually out front by myself."

The situation is a little different for Suzanne. Unlike her brother, who is guaranteed a spot with the Flashes, her walk-on status means she'll have to earn her way onto the team.

"Coach McRaven said right now I'd be about fifth on the team," said Suzanne of Kent State cross country coach Wendel McRaven. "But I'll still have to prove myself to everyone. I'll just have to do my best _ and probably even more than that."

Suzanne was a key member of Roosevelt's cross country team that was runner-up at the state meet last fall. She was second in the WRC, second at the district and 18th at the regional, and has run a personal-best 19:48.

In her junior track season she was fifth in the WRC in the 3,200, and took fourth in the district and seventh in the regional in that event. She was also on the 4x800 relay team that took fifth at the regional, missing out on a state berth by one spot. This year she was second in the WRC in the 3,200.

Her best times are 2:25 in the 800, 5:28 in the 1,600 and 11:58 in the 3,200.

Like her brother, Suzanne will run the 5,000 and 10,000 at Kent State. While it appears it'll be more difficult for her to earn a spot on the track team than it will to make the cross country squad, Botzman is optimistic about her chances.

"She can definitely earn a spot," he said, "but she's going to have to be consistent and prove that she's Division I material. She could have gone to a lot of Division III schools, but she wanted to be close to home, it's affordable and her brother is going to run there."

Suzanne is confident she can run her way onto the Kent State track team.

"I have to drop all my times to at least be competitive in college," she said. "The times they're running now are pretty fast, so I guess I'll see what happens. I'll have to prove myself, but it's not impossible."

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