Above: At last Saturday's home cross country meet, junior Kelly Labanara (at far right) led the Warriors at the finish for the second straight race, placing second overall. (Photo by Liam Murphy)
By Brent Pelella / Sports Information Staff
"Your season starts way before the first event."
Every coach in America preaches this statement to their athletes, but it takes a truly inspired individual to follow through. It's a tedious process, but it's hard to deny the improvement it brings.
Kelly Labanara, a junior cross-country runner at Eastern, is a first-hand example of what it takes to be the best. Last season, as a sophomore, she hovered around the 22-minute mark in the 5k and as a result was the 5th best runner on her own team.
Three long summer months and 500 miles of running later and last year's Kelly is a faint shadow lagging behind. In turn, the new Labanara is stealing the show this season. In her first two events, she has finished first on the team both times and a career best 2nd overall in her last race.
To put her astounding summer running totals into perspective, it could be estimated that her efforts would have brought her from Eastern to Philadelphia and back (in case she's looking for an adventure next summer). Nonetheless, listening to her talk about her passion is envious.
"I am so proud of Kelly and what she has accomplished," noted second-year Eastern head coach Kathy Manizza. "Her summer training program set her up for a fantastic season and I know she will continue to improve. She takes running very seriously, but she also enjoys it and that is so important to being a lifelong runner."
Labanara runs until her legs waver, and then shakes it out and continues to trek, "It helps me clear my head," he proclaimed. "I fell in love with running at a young age, and never looked back."
Labanara grew up in nearby Chaplin and graduated from Parish Hill High School, where she ran cross country and track for four years under Richard Gogan. In cross country at Parish Hill, she also showed drastic improvement, earning the program's Most Improved Runner Award as a freshman and sophomore before being named team MVP as a junior and senior. As a junior in track in high school, she received the Coaches' Award, then proceeded to earn team MVP honors in that program as a senior, as well.
In addition to cross country, Labanara is a two-year indoor and outdoor letterwinner with the Eastern track and field programs, running distances from 800 to 3,000 meters.
However, the soft-spoken accounting major is not content with her most recent goals. She plans to get her 5k time under 20 minutes and continue to improve the other aspects of being a leader on the team.
Kelly understands with success comes not only higher expectations, but also more responsibilities, "We have some great senior leaders, but I also know younger girls might start looking up to me with what I've done. I have to continue to lead by example, and also motivate them vocally."
Her development into a forerunner will give her experience in not only athletics, but also situations that will impact her life after college. This is one of the most essential aspects of being on a team. Most athletes experience togetherness and sacrifice, but Kelly is getting one better.
"Kelly is very quiet, but she is leading by example and setting a great standard for the younger girls as well as for potential incoming athletes," said Manizza.
Running will always fill a vast abyss in her life, and her discreet competitive nature will continue to propagate on roads, and trails countrywide. Her immediate plan after college, aside from crunching numbers, is pretty predictable, "I intend on running throughout my life. My first goal after I graduate is to run a marathon. That would be pretty cool."