A local distance runner has a legitimate shot at taking home a medal in the state cross country meet this season, and his coach is convinced that he will do just that.
Flower Mound High School’s Brayden Kennedy finished among the top 15 runners at state last season and will try to get back to state again in 2021, with nine of the runners who finished ahead of him having graduated.
Coach Andrew Cook said Kennedy had an exceptionally strong finish to the 2020 season, but still does not believe he has reached his full potential.
“Brayden was consistent all season and saved his best race for state,” Cook said. “Placing in the top 15 at the state meet as a sophomore is a great accomplishment.”
Kennedy, 16, finished 13th overall in Austin in 2020 with a time of 15:42.21, the second highest overall finish for a sophomore at the state meet.
Cook said that Kennedy is a talented athlete who runs with a lot of confidence and competes well at the big meets, which Cook believes is precisely what sets him apart from other distance runners.
“Compared to most athletes, Brayden does a good job of staying relaxed and focusing on his racing plan,” Cook said.
But it is not always easy to remain focused while running.
Kennedy, who started running in middle school and also ran for Lake Cities Cross Country with coach Brad Lutz, said there are a few misconceptions about his sport that the casual sports fan may not understand.
“The amount of weekly mileage we put in is one thing,” Kennedy said. “I also don’t think people understand or know how many obstacles we encounter along the trails.”
On one occasion, for instance, the Flower Mound distance runner made an interesting discovery during training that was certainly not expected.
“I have so many memorable times out on the trails,” Kennedy said. “I found a hockey stick on a run one time, picked it up and continued my run. I ran with it for about six miles.”
While Kennedy does not play hockey, he does enjoy playing ultimate frisbee with his friends in his spare time, and said that spending time with his friends is one of the things he most values in life.
The Flower Mound junior said that what appeals the most to him about the sport of cross country is being able to run with his friends and the freedom that running the trails provide.
Kennedy has made the trip to Austin in each of the last two seasons, and his goals this year are to not only get back to state, but also run under 15:00.
While Kennedy makes his sport look easy, he admits that he does not just coast through the rest of his life.
“I think it would surprise people to know that school doesn’t come easy to me,” Kennedy said. “I really struggle with it, and I have to work really hard to get good grades.”
Kennedy finished eighth overall out of 179 runners at the Southlake 2-Mile on Aug. 21 and will compete in a total of eight runs before the 6-6A District meet held in mid-October.
The Flower Mound junior said he wants to focus his efforts on continued improvement this season and said he is generally prepared for the season with just one nagging issue he plans to work on.
“I feel like I am mentally strong,” Kennedy said. “I do not get too worked up before or after a race. I do, however, feel a little drained from running sometimes.”
Kennedy said he does hope to one day run at the college level.