Best races are ahead for Freeport junior cross country runner Michael Braun
Wednesday, September 20, 2023 | 9:31 PM
Michael Braun was the seventh-fastest underclassmen and the third fastest sophomore at last year’s WPIAL Class 2A cross country championships at Cal U (Pa.).
The Freeport junior placed 11th overall, an improvement of 20 places from his WPIAL debut in 2021.
He also ran at the PIAA championships in Hershey for the first time.
Braun, now one of the WPIAL’s top Class 2A runners, came into this season using the past and the future as motivation as he eyes top performances over the next month and a half.
“The bar gets raised every year, and there is a lot more that I want,” he said.
“I am never satisfied.”
Braun tested the waters and got his competition feet wet late last month at the Butler County 5K Fall Classic, a scrimmage where he finished second overall (16:33.70) to Butler senior Drew Griffith (16:03.46), the defending WPIAL Class 3A champion and PIAA runner-up.
“I felt pretty good that race,” Braun said.
“Every year, we run hard but also use it to see where we’re at. Drew and I decided to tempo it. I wanted to see how far I could stick with him. I stuck with him for the first mile and a half and then just cruised the second half of the race. I was very happy with my time.
“(The Seneca Valley course) had a big hill. Hills have kind of always been my weak point, so races with hills are good to help me work on that. I still struggle on them a little bit, but I’ve gotten a lot better compared to last year.”
A week later, Braun captured the Class 2A (Fire) boys 5K at the annual Marty Uher Vulcans Invite, the official kickoff to his season. He bested the field by 15 seconds, finishing in a time of 16:47.10.
“The Cal U course, we always run it early, and it is another good benchmark,” Braun said.
“I usually can gauge from that how my season will go.”
Braun again made his mark at the prestigious Red, White & Blue Invite on Sept. 9 at White Oak Park, the site of the WPIAL championships Oct. 26.
Kletz was seventh in last year’s WPIAL Class 2A race, while LaLomia was 28th.
“Last year, I ran my PR at White Oak, and I also ran my freshman PR there,” Braun said.
“I knew that, if I felt good during the race, that it definitely was going to be another PR. I was very happy to see 15:40 coming through the finish line.”
Braun collected a runner-up finish (16:15) last Friday against some of the top area runners in all three classifications at the Kiski Invite at Northmoreland Park. With the big hill on the course to tackle, he wasn’t able to overtake Fox Chapel junior Ethan Vaughan, who took home first in a time of 15:58.7.
It was Braun’s second runner-up finish in a row at the Kiski Invite as he was second last year to Fox Chapel’s Rowan Gwin.
“I still struggled on that hill, but my last mile was a lot faster than it was last year,” he said.
“I also ran faster on the hill than last year, so I was happy with the improvement.”
Braun and his Freeport teammates will make their way to Hershey this weekend for the PIAA Foundation Invitational on the same Giant Center course the state’s top competitors will run Nov. 4.
“Michael is off to an extremely strong start,” Freeport coach Melissa Schaeffer said.
“However, we’re being a little conservative with his races right now. His best races are yet to come. We’ve picked out key races to focus on, so he’s not running all-out every race or every invite. Even though he’s running hard, he’s leaving a little in the tank each time.
“He’s really matured as a runner over the past year. He’s such a competitor, and he’s also learned a lot about how the sport works. It’s a long season. It is exciting for what he will be able to do come time for WPIALs and hopefully states.”
Schaeffer said Braun also has upped his leadership role on the team and is someone his teammates, including many of the younger runners, can come to for running tips and advice.
“We have a leadership group, and, over the summer, we met every week and worked through a leadership course,” Schaeffer said.
“We would self-evaluate, and one of his goals was to be more of that vocal leader. He’s been more of that lead-by-example type of runner where he would let his performances speak for themselves. It’s real easy for everyone to be in awe of him and want to be like him. He’s done a great job of taking some of the younger runners under his wing and really help them along with things like training and race strategy. He is super excited when he sees his teammates run well.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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