Over the past four years, Cooper City's Jacy Kruzel has established herself as one of the most consistent exemplars of distance-running power in South Florida. A tantalizing aspect of this consistency has been the perennial presence of a 4A cross-country rival -- friendly nemeses that have often kept Kruzel from the winner's circle at championship meets at which the soft-spoken senior has otherwise excelled.
As a sophomore, Kruzel was second to Devin Gapstur of Martin County in the 4A Region 3 meet (where her 18:17 demolished her previous cross-country 5K best by 1:03) and fourth at the 4A States; she also grabbed fourth at the Foot Locker South Regional freshman-sophomore race. The next fall, Kruzel swept the Broward Country, district, and regional races, then was fifth at states, where Oveido's Jenny Barringer -- who was quietly beginning her ascent toward national-class excellence -- triumphed for the second straight year.
This fall has again been a fine one for Kruzel, with the added and pleasant wrinkle of the Cowgirls enjoying their finest team campaign in recent memory. Kruzel won the seeded invitational division at the Great American XC Festival in Cary, N.C. on October 3 by 34 seconds in 18:43; her time there would have placed her just outside top 20 in the Race of Champions (in which Barringer and Pope John Paul II's Nicole Schappert finished 6th and 16th respectively). On October 14, she finished just 13 seconds behind victorious Cypress Bay frosh sensation Emilie Amaro at the Broward County Champs, and the next weekend turned the tables to beat Amaro by 13 seconds in winning the 4A District 6 Meet in 18:28, but Cooper City beat back Cypress Bay to second place in the team standings.
This past weekend at the Region 3 Champs at Westminster Academy, Amaro exacted individual revenge, winning by 47 seconds over Kruzel in 18:59. But Kruzel's Cowboys convincingly took the team title, their 37 points besting runner-up Cypress Bay by 36 and relegating defending champion Spanish River (118) to fourth place. "I would have liked to have run better," admits Kruzel, "but we last won regionals in '94, so this was really exciting."
Overall, Kruzel, who trains diligently in the off-season in both summer and winter, says she prefers cross-country to track. "The more distance there is, the better," claims the overall female winner of an off-season 15K (9.3-mile) road race in Davie. "And it's more team-oriented, which makes it fun." Kruzel, however, has shone on the oval as well as on the turf, winning both the 1600m and the 3200m at the 4A Region 3 Champs as a sophomore and notching fourth in the 3000m at the prestigious Golden South Invitational in Orlando in June.
True to the form so often shown by the most accomplished in the sport, Kruzel evinces nothing but admiration and goodwill toward her chief rivals. In fact, she lists her classmate Barringer among the runners she admires most. "She's just an all-around sweet girl and you would never know how accomplished she is just from speaking to her," Kruzel enthuses. "She's one of the few people who really could get away with being arrogant, but she's the furthest thing from it."
Kruzel has her eye on the University of Florida, which she visited this past weekend after her runner-up effort at Regionals. But on her immediate horizon, of course, are her last shots at a pair of dear races -- the 4A State Championship Race in Tampa this weekend and the Foot Locker South Regionals in Charlotte, N.C. at the end of the month. "I might take a little time off after states," she says. "I'm really excited about the team's chances at States too."
Of her own chances of finishing in the top eight at the Foot Locker race and thus earning a berth in December's Foot Locker National Championship, Kruzel says, "Foot Locker Regionals could be my last high-school race, so I really just want to finish up well, whatever that brings." Given her record to date, fans of this humble yet driven athlete would be well advised to pay close attention to the goings-on in both Tampa's Ed Radice Park this weekend and the North Carolina hills on November 27.