It was on a single-lane course that Makara Smocer found herself at a crossroads.
During the Pittsburgh Diocesan Athletic League cross country championship race on Oct. 18 at Cooper’s Lake in Slippery Rock, Smocer, a Cranberry resident and eighth-grade student at St. Teresa of Avila School in Ross, was keeping pace with a friend for much of the race.
But as they were jogging towards the finish line, Katherine Fedko of St. Mary’s slipped and Smocer had to make a quick decision. Should she help her friend, or race to the finish and win the title
In the end, she did both.
After making sure Fedko, the daughter of local sportscaster John Fedko, was okay, Smocer still was able to beat the field of 151 in a time of 12 minutes, 35 seconds. She was 11 seconds faster than the nearest competitor.
“In the middle of the race, I wasn’t going my full speed, so I saved up enough energy to push towards the finish,” said Smocer, who is 13. “I was so nervous. In the middle of the race a girl tried to pass me and I was afraid she was going to come up and pass me (while Smocer was helping Fedko).”
The championship was a long time coming for Smocer. After finishing in second place in 2013, her main goal this season was to finish first.
“It really felt great,” she said. “It made me feel like all my hard work had paid off.”
Smocer wasn’t the only member of the Titans that had a great day. Fellow eighth grader Brendan Lawlor won the varsity boys division in a time of 11:22. It is believed to be the first time in the 14-year history of the program that Titans runners have swept each of the 3,000-meter races.
The junior varsity boys also set a new school mark by winning their division for the first time. The JV girls took fourth, helped by Makara’s younger sister, Marin, who finished 16th.
Part of what makes Makara Smocer a good runner is her dedication to multiple sports. She is a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and also plays basketball and soccer for the school.
“Being an athlete since I was young helped me,” Smocer said. “Tae Kwon Do gives you a lot of balance and technique and athleticism. Basketball and soccer help with my muscles and stamina.”
It all came together nicely for Smocer, who showed up at the beginning of the season already in top form.
“In the preseason, I knew that Makara had a shot at being at the top and challenging for a championship,” said Titans coach and Franklin Park resident Bob Kocent.
Smocer is still undecided on the high school she will attend, but she knows for sure that she wants to focus on running.
Topping her list is Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Vincentian and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.
Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.