Nick Molnar found out cross country is no joking matter.
The Lexington senior just missed a state berth a year ago by five places and nine seconds. He vowed to not let that happen again.
“It’s fueled me tremendously,” he said. “It fueled me in track. I broke 10 minutes (in the 3200 meters) in track which was a huge goal. After that, running was like a top priority in life.”
Last year was a pivotal time in his development as a distance runner, Lexington coach Denise Benson said.
“He completely refocused himself. I think he thought it was going to be easier than it was and realized, ‘I’m good, but so is everybody else,'” Benson said.
Sunday runs suggested by the coach weren’t taken seriously. Molnar said he’d maybe run a mile then call it quits. After the regional wake-up call, the attitude changed.
During track season he approached Benson and asked her to get him to where he wanted to be: a sub 16-minute cross country runner and a state qualifier. She laid out the plan and Molnar went to work.
“We never looked back from there,” she said.
In the offseason, he never ran less than six miles a day. His Sunday runs went from one mile to 12. And he hit the road seven days a week.
“I run the same exact time every time and it’s really paid off,” he said.
He won the Richland County Championships to open the season and showed progress early on, but then regressed which was no joke.
“Sometimes I have trouble keeping my mouth shut. I like to run it sometimes,” Molnar admitted.
Comments and jokes that older teammates found funny a year ago weren’t taken the same way by this year’s group. Molnar and a junior varsity runner got into a scuffle that earned Molnar a two-week vacation from competing.
“It was like when you have amnesia and forget what you’re doing and you get hit again and it knocks you back into focus — that’s what it was like. I was like I need to get focused again,” he said.
Unable to run in midseason meets, Molnar realized how much he loved running and missed competing.
“When we have to go through hard times, sometimes we have to pick ourselves up and we’re in an even better place,” Benson said. “It actually gave him more motivation and made him hungrier. I had no doubt that’s what it would do.”
Throughout the summer runs and season workouts, Molnar would ask his coach if he was reaching his goals. “Not yet,” she would answer. “You haven’t done everything I told you to do.”
The breakthrough came a week before the end of the regular season at the Marion Harding Invitational. He finished second by half a second to Newark’s Toby Hardwick, turning a 16:20.
“I saw the new Nick,” Benson said. “He went out there and started showing it. He has not let up since. He’s a pace guy, and he is fantastic about running his own race and walking people down. He was fearless at conference and attacked districts and broke 16 (minutes).
“After Harding I said, ‘Not only are you a state qualifier, now were talking podium.”
Molnar ran a 15:58 at Galion’s Amanns Reservoir Park in the Division II district to claim one goal. He followed it with a seventh place at the Tiffin regional, turning a 16:17 in difficult conditions and despite a head cold to accomplish his other goal. Molnar will run at 11:45 a.m. in the Division II boys race at the state cross country championships at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
“I looked at state qualifiers as gods because they’re so good and talented. I always wanted to be a state qualifier,” he said. “Last year I thought was my year, but in missing it I was like this is my last year so I have to do it.”