BEREA -- What a difference a summer of intensive training has made in the running life of Poland's Matt Finnerty, a sophomore on the Case Western Reserve University cross country team.
Last year as a freshman, the Cardinal Mooney grad didn't win any races and was beaten twice by Mount Union's Mark Prejsnar from Poland High.
This year in CWR's first meet, Finnerty not only won the 8-kilometer race by 11 seconds, beating senior and runner-up Prejsnar in the process, he also posted the fastest time of his career.
Finnerty gained this runaway victory in CWR's second annual Bill Sudeck Classic. He posted a career-best 26.08 -- some 50 seconds better than his previous high -- to outdistance a field of 102 runners from eight schools, and lead the Spartans to the team championship under first-year coach Kathy Lanese.
For that stellar performance, he was selected as University Athletic Association Athlete of the Week.
Trained more: "I trained a lot over the summer running with a lot of the local runners and the Youngstown Roadrunners Club," said Finnerty. "I did a lot of road races over the summer and that helped me keep that competitive edge. I hadn't done that the previous summer.
"I would run every day, just running with the group of guys. It would be a race but we all would start pushing the pace a little. We'd all try to stay in a pack together."
Overall, "I just ran more this summer in general than I ever had."
The 6-3, 150-pound runner said he ran about 50 miles a week, mostly in Mill Creek Park. "I'd go out every day," he said. "I raced in about five or six races that I remember."
Prejsnar helps: In his season-opening win, Finnerty said he was spurred on by the competition, including Prejsnar.
"I think the field was really good," he said. "Mount Union and B-W were there. They are very competitive schools."
Finnerty met Prejsnar last year. They never faced each other in high school.
"I ran against him a couple times last year when we ran against Mount Union," he said. "He beat me twice, but I was just a rookie coming in and he had more experience and knew how to pace himself. "I would talk to him before the race and he would always give me tips and pointers."
Finnerty's objective is to qualify for the NCAA Division III National Championships.
"I would have to be somewhere in the 25:00 range. I think it is possible, barring injury," said Finnerty, who also is a member of the CWR track team and runs the 5,000-meter event.
Good student: Finnerty also is an outstanding student with a 3.85 grade-point average as a physics major. He is eyeing a career in research. The son of Kevin and Mary Jo Finnerty, Matt also ran track and cross country at Mooney under coaches Keith Gorby and Adrian Mangino.
Finnerty also ran in last year's Peace Race in Youngstown, placing 31st overall and third among men in the 16-19 age group in 35:28.
He finished behind Josh Boggs and Justin Boggs, both of Columbiana, who were 1-2 in 35:22.
Others: Also on CWR's cross country team is Joe Cerimele, a sophomore from Boardman High who ran a 27:58 to finish 28th overall and sixth on the team in the Bill Sudeck Classic.
The CWR women's team consists of three area runners, including Shelly Coppola, a sophomore from Liberty High, who placed 84th in 27:45 in the Sudeck meet over the women's 5,000-meter distance. The Spartans placed sixth of seven teams.
The other two area women are freshmen and twin sisters Kathy and Vicky Grammer from Andover and Pymatuning Valley High. In the Sudeck meet, Kathy was 24th in 20:37 which was third-best on the team, and Vicky 51st in 22:09.