Sarah Berger has never really considered herself a track athlete. The Wadsworth standout has always been a soccer player who also runs track.
After this season, those thoughts might change for the junior.
Berger advanced past districts for the first time in her career and went on to not only run in three events at the Division I state meet, but bring home medals in each one.
“She plays soccer, so running is not her game,” Grizzlies coach John Burton said. “She plays defense, so she has wheels. She’s tough, competitive and very talented. She just came on this year.”
Thanks to helping the 4×400- and 4×800-meter relays to top-eight finishes, along with placing in the 1,600 run, Berger was selected as the 2013 Gazette MVP in the sport.
“Honestly, my freshman and sophomore year I really didn’t like track that much,” she said. “This year was fun. It just felt different.
“I did cross country in eighth grade and was good at it, so I ran track in high school to stay in shape. This year I enjoyed it.”
A lot of that had to do with the way the 17-year-old approached the offseason.
After helping Wadsworth’s soccer team to a runner-up finish in the Suburban League, Berger found different ways to take care of her body, which was worn down from a soccer season that ran from the start of the summer to early November, not to mention playing travel in the spring.
“Between soccer and track, it was just hard on my body, so I tried to take better career of myself,” she said. “I took a lot of ice baths and I even take an iron pill now.”
That process paid off. Berger, who had never been to a regional meet before this season, found a way to stand on the podium three times over the two-day state meet in Columbus.
“Sarah’s doesn’t have the most elegant style when she runs, but the more fatigued she is, the faster she goes,” Burton said. “As a freshman, we threw her in the 4×4 after she just ran the 3,200 at Collinwood and she ran a 63-second split, so we always knew the foot speed was there.”
That foot speed was on full display once the postseason started.
Berger posted personal-best runs in three of the last four 1,600-meter races of the season, including winning the SL Meet, taking third at the Nordonia District and placing second at the Youngstown Regional to Solon standout and Oregon recruit Therese Haiss.
She went on to place seventh at state, finishing in a career-low 5:04.80.
The 5-foot-7 Berger anchored the 4×8, which included Courtney Palange, Michalla Gordon and Madi Salem, to an SL title, second-place runs at the district and regional meets and a fourth at state. Not too shabby for a group that only ran in five meets together.
It was a pressure position for Berger, who went from anchor to the lead leg at the beginning of the year before Burton asked her to step into the final position again.
“She typically led off for us, but I moved her (back to anchor) more for her competitive focus and confidence,” Burton said. “She just has that speed.”
Added Berger: “I didn’t want to mess it up. I just would go out there and do the best I could. I didn’t want to let them down.”
She also showed off her 400-meter skills in helping the relay with Palange, Gordon and Leah Runkle to a seventh-place showing.
“It was really crazy,” Berger said of state weekend. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and coaches that pushed me. I just kept doing well and kept improving.”
After all that, can we now call her a track athlete?
“I think I’m equal at both,” Berger said with a laugh. “I like them both.”
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.