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Szymanski hoping to earn all-state honors at finals

Courtesy Photo Alpena’s Madi Szymanski will compete in the Division 1 cross country finals at Michigan International Speedway on Friday.

If all goes according to plan on Friday, Madi Szymanski will put a cherry on top of an already impressive season.

Szymanski, an Alpena High School junior, will compete in the Division 1 cross country state finals today at Michigan International Speedway. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the race will be split into two races and Szymanski will be in the second of two races along with the other D-1 individual qualifiers.

Szymanski qualified for the state finals as a freshman, but the journey back to MIS has been an arduous one. After finishing 66th in 19:17.3 as a freshman, injuries ended Szymanski’s sophomore season prematurely.

This year has been a long, slow buildup to the finals, where Szymanski is ready to give it her all.

She qualified for the finals after she finished third at a regional last week.

“I’m really excited for it. I think it’s going to be a good race,” Szymanski said. “Honestly, I’m hoping for a PR. We hope for that every race, but I really think this is going to be a good race this weekend and that I can do it.”

Szymanski said her state finals experience two years ago will help this time around, but she’s not taking things for granted. If anything, it’s sharpened her focus and her quest to finish in the top 30, thereby earning all-state honors.

To that end, she’s spent time this week making a list of all the individual runners who are seeded ahead of her. Szymanski will enter Friday’s race seeded 40th with her regional time of 18:48.7.

Runners at the finals tend to record faster times due to the increased level of competition and Alpena coach Joy Bullis said even though Szymanski will have to push herself, she’s very capable of reaching both of her goals for the race.

“She does a lot of research. She knows who’s ahead of her. She knows what their uniforms look like,” Bullis said. “Knowing Madi, she’s picked out those 18:30 racers and right off the starting line, she will beeline to them.”

Szymanski’s return to full strength and full speed has been a gradual process coming off an injury, but even at less than 100%, she’s been impressive. In 10 races this season, Szymanski has recorded seven top-10 finishes with four wins. Her fastest time this season (18:48.7) came at the Bluejay Invite in Shepherd in October. Over the last few weeks, she’s turned in some of fastest times of the year as she’s built confidence and increased her mileage.

She’s also run against top competition in the Big North Conference this season as Traverse City Central is expected to contend for the Division 1 team championship and Petoskey is expected to contend for the Division 2 team championship.

“I think it’s gone really well. I think this is the strongest I’ve run in a very long time,” Szymanski said of her season. “I think I’m going to peak now and that’s always the goal, to peak at the end.”

Though she got a feel for the MIS course and the state finals atmosphere as a freshman, Szymanski knows she can’t leave anything to chance on Friday, even if that means leaving nothing in the tank and pushing through pain and fatigue.

“(Mentally you) really just prepare yourself to be in pain. It’s not going to feel good, it doesn’t feel good, but it’s worth it when it’s done and you just have to be willing to push yourself for those 18-19 minutes that you’re running,” Szymanski said. “It goes away when you’re done, so just give it your all when you’re doing it.”

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