The night before a big race, Kittatinny Regional High School freshman, Molly Riva, eats a lot of ice pops. Sometimes 10.
“Somehow that calms me down,” she said.
Riva placed fourth at the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) State Sectional Championships, and then went onto place sixth at the Group 1 Championships, which qualified her to run at the Meet of Champions on Saturday, Nov. 23. Her Group Meet time was a blazing 20:29, something that's not easy to come by on the grueling Holmdel Park course, in Holmdel, New Jersey.
“The first hill is really hard,” Riva said. “I love getting to the trail and the downhill through the woods.”
The initial climb on the 3.1-mile course is followed by a run through the infamous “Bowl,” a downhill then extremely abrupt uphill. At it's summit, runners can see the tennis courts and though spent, know that they mean the start of the descent through the woods to the final stint across the grass field to the finish.
Training started in July with captains' practices.
“At first I wasn't sure about them and giving up my summer fun,” Riva said, “But that changed really quickly as I loved working out with this group of kids and we had a lot of fun together.”
As the season carried on, Riva trained hard, putting in the pivotal speed, endurance, hill and distance workouts.
“My favorites are 'free runs' when we get to run all over the school's campus and teachers see us and say hi and friends see us and cheer us on,” she said. “They're a lot of fun.”
Riva never expected to go this far.
“I'm so excited to have made it to Meet of Champions,” Riva said. “When Coach Guy told me there was a chance I could place between sixth and eighth in my group, I went in with the attitude to give it everything I had.”
“The fact that Molly is even competing in the Meet of Champions is unreal especially as a ninth grader,” said Chris Carroll, Kittatinny's athletic director. “The last time Kittatinny had a runner competing at this level was 31 years ago.The fact that Molly is competing in this race is a testament to her hard work, intestinal fortitude and the guidance of our coaching staff.”
Riva received the Most Valuable Player award at Wednesday's Sports Awards ceremony.