Graham Strzelecki's attraction to cross country began in the sixth grade when he rooted for his older sister, Zi Li, a runner on Catonsville High's team.
"He would have Catonsville Comets shirts made for himself," Catonsville cross country coach Sandra Gallagher-Mohler said.
Now, aspiring runners should be rooting for Strzelecki, who is the top runner on the Catonsville squad that will run in the Baltimore County cross country championship meet at Dulaney High on Oct. 22 at 11 a.m.
Being the best on his team is not surprising to Gallagher-Mohler.
"He has been dreaming about this for a long time, so when you have a kid who is that eager and that disciplined you want him to do very well," Gallagher-Mohler said.
On Sept. 17, on the Dulaney High course, Strzelecki shaved over a minute off his 2015 time at the Barnhart Invitational and finished 14th.
The senior's personal record time of 16:49.23 in the race bettered last year's time of 17:56.35 when he placed 51st.
The following week, he placed fifth out of 196 runners in the afternoon race at the Spiked Shoe Invitational held at Stevenson University.
Although the morning race at the Spiked Shoe meet features the more elite team's, Strzelecki's high placing helped the Comet boys take sixth overall out of 24 teams.
He is currently preparing for the Wildcat Invitational Oct. 8 at Williamsport High, but his motives for improving go beyond the high school season.
"I was working hard this summer, mostly because I want to run in college too," Strzelecki said. "St. Joseph's University is my number one choice right now."
The hot summer weather motivated him even more.
"I tried to base my workouts during the heat so I could make sure I'm well heat-trained and when I come into the season, if we race in the heat, I will be acclimated," he said.
Pre-season workouts is what make elite runners better.
"It's not like he waited until August to get his game face on," Gallagher-Mohler said. "He's been working all summer long. He put in the miles and he put in the time."
Although he was 14th at Barnhart, he was fourth among the Baltimore County runners, behind only Towson's Jon Ellis and Dulaney's Matt Owens and Brian McCullough.
"He doesn't run with anxiety so he knows what his body is capable of doing and being up in front was not something that is stressful for him," Gallagher-Mohler said. "It was something we had planned for. He knew what his goals were and he was pretty on."
The other Comets who ran at Barnhart included juniors Drew Nicolaus (69th), Tim Huynh (97th), Jack Levickas (106th), Joe Hill (107th), Liam Horch (149th) and freshman Gunnar Cheuvront (150th).
Strzelecki, Nicolaus, Huynh, Hill and Cheuvront were five of Catonsville's 17 boys and girls varsity and junior varsity runners who set personal records at the Barnhart meet.
"What was most exciting about that [personal records] was that many of them came from upperclassmen," Gallagher-Mohler said. "Some of them dropped 30 seconds to a minute. That was very exciting."
At Spiked Shoe, seniors Garrett Lang and Sam Bower joined the seven-man squad and Gallagher-Mohler could have freshman Elliott Wack and senior Kam Harrison available for the county championship meet.
Wack was seventh in the junior varsity race at Spiked Shoe and Harrison is recovering from a knee injury.
Strzelecki has his own goal in mind for the county race.
"I'm trying to go mid 16s, hopefully under 16:30," he said. "I'm trying to get at least top five in the county championships."
Catonsville girls led by White
In the first two invitational meets this season, Catonsville sophomore Eva White was the top Comet on the girls team.
White was 21st at the Barnhart Invitational in a time of 20:30.78.
At the Spiked Shoe, she placed fourth in the afternoon race in 20:26.40.
White and senior Anna Piermattei (16th) both set personal records at the Spiked Shoe.
Sophomore Sharon Kolb (41st), freshmen Eleanor Queeney (45th) and Lin-Ley Harpin (59th), sophomore Jamie Pan (70th) and freshman Emma Angell (73rd) also ran for the Comets who were second in the team standings (143) behind front-running Rising Sun (93).
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"On the girls side, Eva has definitely put in the time and it's exciting to have a girls on the map the way she is and she is only a sophomore," Gallagher-Mohler said.