Big Red Madi Mace’s other sport

Being a professional, preparation is my key when requests are made for my contribution on a project. About a month ago, my writer friend Sean McNamara requested help with a PHS/Morgantown football preview on his new radio show.

The health of Big Reds’ wide receiver Brenton Strange along with other topics were among the discussion points. A phone call easily could’ve yielded the information required but I enjoy face-to-face conversations with PHS head coach Mike Byus.

My arrival to the school’s back parking lot Aug. 21 timed perfectly with a strange sight. Two-time Class AAA All-State first-team basketball player Madi Mace hurriedly rushing toward the back annex.

“Hmmmmm,” I said to myself. “I wonder where she is headed to quickly. I would have thought if she was participating in an after-school activity it was most likely lifting for basketball season in the fieldhouse.”

A quick greeting preceded an answer to the quizzical look on my face. “I am late for cross country,” she said, probably thinking this was the end of that particular conversation.

Judging by the famous Mace family smile on her face as she spotted me at a Sept. 4 practice, my presence for a column wasn’t a surprise.

“Yeah I figured I would see you again,” she said.

Mace played soccer and basketball her freshman year but concentrated on basketball last season. What made her throw her hat in the ring for another sport again?

Was this conditioning colleges had asked her to undertake to be ready to play basketball at the Division I level? Did Bre Wilson’s injury at the end of last season cause her to take up another sport to strengthen other muscles in her leg to avoid a similar ACL tear? Multiple studies have shown multi-sport athletes are less likely to suffer injuries as they strengthen supporting muscles not used in a main sport.

Did she want a break from hoops after a summer spent traveling for the game she loved?

Turns out Wilson’s injury impacted everyone throughout the hoops’ program. Head coach Scott Cozzens really pushed the girls to another sport this fall. “If you aren’t doing soccer you need to do something,” were the words Cozzens shared with his state champion basketball team.

Some of the girls had an easy decision. Shay-Lee Kirby, Maggie Sauers, Kristen Lowers and Kisten Roberts had volleyball, Maggie Richards had travel softball, Aleea Crites was helping coach Belpre’s elementary school team, while Maddi Leggett and Madison Spears played soccer.

“I liked it (soccer) and it was great but it is a really dangerous sport,” said Mace, who has 20 offers from D-I schools for hoops.

“That is where most girls get hurt with concussions and ACL tears. There is no contact in cross country. It is very chill.

“I wanted to branch out too. I love the people on this team and like meeting new people and having another crowd.”

Easy does it isn’t the approach Mace is taking though she doesn’t see herself on Madison Trippett’s or Tori Starcher’s level by the end of the year.

Basketball fans need not worry.

“No way bro,” she said with a laugh. “I am just hoping to enjoy myself.”

And enjoy herself she has as a member of the varsity team. Mace ran all three years at Jackson so the background was there. There isn’t a lot troubling her so far.

Her biggest surprise came at the St. Mary’s Medical Center XC Festival. Near the end the course forces you to go around a big pond after a run up a lengthy hill. Mace hoped the route turned left away from the pond, but instead led around the water’s edge before the finish line.

“How did you find out about that,” she asked with a chuckle as cross country assistant coach Amelia Wolfe gave herself away with a laugh further down the hall. “I was like a car slowing down on the highway.”

An occurrence unlikely to happen again this season. Mace feels herself getting stronger and healthier from running every single day. She also gets a break from the mind games of basketball. “It is so relaxing,” said Mace. “I don’t think too much I just run.

“It is a blast. Our first meet was at night and there were tiki torches and a flame twirler guy. I forgot how much I missed it. I like running. Having a routine is my favorite thing. We run Monday and Tuesday, work out on Wednesday and rest Thursday before a meet. It is nice.”

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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