Distance runner led Valley in medals from state track
By Brian Dzenis
Malina Mitchell has already carved out a spot in McDonald’s illustrious track and cross country history. Heading into her junior year, she already had helped deliver the Blue Devils’ first girls cross country state title as a freshman and anchored a championship 4x400 relay team as a sophomore.
She didn’t take home any state silverware in her junior year, but still established herself as the area’s female athlete of the year.
She led the Mahoning Valley in medals in track with three. She took fourth in the 1600 and 4x800 relay and sixth in the 3200. The numbers don’t quite tell the story of what she did.
In Columbus, she ran the one-mile and then the two-mile in back-to-back races with temperatures in the 80s. For the relay, she was the one senior alongside three freshman. It was a new dynamic for her.
“It’s nice to be a leader for them. Last year on the [4x400] relay, I was the underclassman with two seniors,” Mitchell said. “It’s been exciting to take on that role with such a hard-working group of girls.”
McDonald remains a reigning district champ for six consecutive years thanks to Mitchell’s efforts and exits the Inter-Tri County League with seven straight titles. She claimed the school record for the 1600 this year and shares the 4x800 and 4x400 relay records.
This fall in cross country, she recorded her worst finish at the state tournament — 106th — but just like track, that number isn’t giving a complete picture.
Mitchell suffered a stress fracture in her foot two weeks before the state tournament. At the time, Blue Devils coach Mike Richards gave Mitchell a “five percent chance” to even participate.
“It was a difficult situation to get thrown into. In the last invitational of the season, I ran really well. It was [mid-18 minutes] and that was a great time for me,” Mitchell said. “The following week, I get a stress fracture in my foot and I wasn’t planning on running at first.”
To give an idea about how serious such an injury is, Western Reserve senior Ashley Rowley — a longtime rival of Mitchell’s — was unable to make it to state this spring because of a stress fracture.
McDonald continued through district and regional competition without her. Despite wearing a protective boot through that stretch leading up to state, she decided to go for it.
“Even though I wasn’t able to run anywhere close to what I could originally, I was still able to help my team and still affected how they placed at state,” Mitchell said. “It was definitely hard. I’m a pretty competitive person and not being near the front was pretty hard to get over, but it motivated me so much for track season. I thought about it through the winter.”
Mitchell’s place was fourth on her team, helping the Blue Devils take fifth in the team competition.
She’s received some overtures from Division I colleges to continue her running career. She’s undecided but knows what to look for as she makes her decision.
“I have high standards because of the coaches we have at McDonald. I want to go into a program where I feel comfortable and the coaches have confidence in me,” Mitchell said. “They just make it enjoyable and people see the success we have year after year and they want to be a part of that.”