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All-Delco Cross Country: Defining moment may be now for O’Hara’s Arizin, James

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MARPLE >> Ryan James had what some would call an epiphany while competing in the open mile race at the 10th annual John Hay Memorial Distance Festival at Henderson High School in West Chester last June.

James, who was just finishing up his sophomore year at Cardinal O’Hara, finished 13th in that race and realized he had to get stronger if he wanted to reach his full potential.

“My freshman and sophomore year I was a little lazy,” James said. “I really didn’t push myself. I didn’t do a lot of pushups or sit-ups or any of the other things to get stronger. After that race I knew that’s what I had to do.”

The 2015 Daily Times Cross Country Runners of the Year are Ryan James and Olivia Arizin of Cardinal O'Hara. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

The 2015 Daily Times Cross Country Runners of the Year are Ryan James and Olivia Arizin of Cardinal O’Hara. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

Olivia Arizin’s defining moment came a few weeks later, when she finished eighth in the 800-meter championship at the USATF junior nationals in Eugene, Oregon. The winner of that race was Oregon’s Raevyn Rogers, who won the NCAA 800-meter title two weeks earlier.

It was the ultimate confidence booster for the junior from O’Hara. Arizin realized she could more than hold her own with the best young runners in the country.

“That was pretty cool, to run next to Raevyn Rogers and some of the other girls that I read about,” Arizin said. “The next thing I know I’m in a race next to them. It took a lot of hard work to get there, but it was great to see that hard work pay off.”

That dedication continued to pay off in the fall as Arizin and James quickly established themselves not only as the top cross country runners in the county, but among the best distance runners in the state, which made them the easy choices for Runner of the Year honors from the Daily Times.

Joining Arizin and James on the All-Delco cross country first-team, which was selected by the Daily Times sports staff after consultation with county coaches are: O’Hara’s Elizabeth Mancini and Rob Morro, Agnes Mansaray and Terri Turner from Penn Wood; Maia Mesyngier and Ian Reid of Strath Haven, Ridley’s Jamie Green; Sacred Heart’s Emma Seifried; Liam Galligan of Springfield; Avery Lederer from Penncrest; Sean Sullivan of Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast and James Abrahams of Haverford High.

Arizin is a three-time member of the All-Delco cross country team. James, Morro, Mancini, Seifried, Galligan and Sullivan also are repeat selections. Seifried, the 2014 girls Runner of the Year, Mancini and Green are sophomores. Arizin, James, Galligan, Abrahams and Turner are juniors. Morro, Sullivan, Reid, Lederer, Medyngier and Mansaray are seniors.

It’s no surprise that Arizin and James have developed into top-notch athletes. It’s in their blood. Arizin’s father, Chris, was an All-Delco basketball player at O’Hara and played collegiately at Drexel. Her grandfather is the great Paul Arizin, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I know some of the things about my grandfather,” Arizin said. “I’ve been to Villanova where they have things about him, but I was too young. I was in the second grade when he passed away. I do remember going to their house on Sundays after mass.”

While Arizin played a variety of sports at St. Mary Magdalen School in Media, she fell in love with running at an early age. She began running cross country in the first grade and picked up track in the fourth grade.

The competition, though, wasn’t intense.

“It was just go out and have fun,” Arizin said. “I’d eat like five Snickers bars before the race and then jog and laugh with my friends during the race. I was never pushed hard, which is why I think it’s important to push yourself.”

She still has her bag of candy with her, usually Warheads, but it is that inner drive that has turned her into a champion. Arizin started the season with a victory at the Briarwood Invitational and kept on winning. She won the Delco title, the Catholic League championship and the District 12 Class AAA crown. She placed eighth at the PIAA Class AAA championships, the highest finish ever by an O’Hara girl. Arizin guided O’Hara to its third straight Catholic League team title and fourth consecutive District 12 Class AAA championship.

“I think a lot of it had to do with confidence and learning more about my body as a runner, what works for me and what doesn’t,” Arizin said. “My workouts are geared more toward what I wanted to do and when I wanted to peak. I knew I could stay with these girls in races. That’s where confidence comes in, so I wanted to go out there and run fast, push myself and do the best that I can.”

James also comes from a successful athletic family. His older brother, Kevin, was a two-time Runner of the Year (2013 and 2014) and one of the best runners in O’Hara history. His younger brother, Patrick, is a key performer for the Lions.

They played a role in his desire to get stronger, as did Morro.

“I saw how they trained and knew I had to get in better shape,” Ryan James said.

However, he did not have Kevin around to push him, so he had to do it on his own. That hard work paid off. Ryan James won the Delco championships, placed second at the Catholic League championships, third at the District 12 Class AAA meet and earned a medal with a 17th-place finish at the PIAA championships. James closed out the season with a 15th place finish at the Nike Northeast Regional. He just missed qualifying for nationals.

“I was a little disappointed in that,” James said. “I could have passed a few people if I had run a little harder.”

Call that the second defining moment of his career.

“I’m still learning a lot as a runner,” James said. “I’m getting better at it. I’m learning how not to give in when I start to get tired. It’s all willpower. You have to push yourself all the time. That’s the only way to get better.”

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