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Getting to know you: Hobart freshman Cohen captures first varsity 5K title at Bob Thomas Invite

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

LOWELL -- Before Saturday's Bob Thomas Invitational, Cassie Cohen and Brenna Sobecki had never met.

"I showed up kind of thinking I wouldn't have any competition," Sobecki said. "I was like, I have no idea who this is. I couldn't see the shorts. I knew it wasn't Addie (Roth) or Nikki (Vollrath)."

The La Porte senior and Hobart freshman became acquainted over the better part of the 3.1-mile course, pulling away from the Lake Central pair to settle into a duel that was decided in their final strides of an all-out sprint in the final straightaway, Cohen reaching the line in 19:13.92 and Sobecki in 19:14.48.

"I knew a few of the girls from the other teams, but I didn't know about Brenna," Cohen said. "It was pretty nice competition. I really liked running with Brenna. I like have competition like that. I can try to pace with them. It's just fun. I really didn't know I could run that fast."

Honestly, neither did Sobecki.

"I was excited to somebody up there," Sobecki said. "I kept trying to break her. There were times I would go hard and I could hear her breathing become more labored, but she was not dropping. I was thinking, this kid's tough. I just figured she'd drop after the two-mile. I didn't see a reason to keep trying to break her. It was cool I run to get better, but I run mostly for the competition. I get bummed when I don't. I feel like I'm just having a workout. I run alone every day anyway. I really enjoyed it. It's fun to race against people and we just battle it out at the end. That's why I just rode it out."

Ironically, at one point, while Sobecki was in front, she took a wrong turn and Cohen, not knowing any differently, followed.

"I was kind of confused where I was," Sobecki said. "The flags where you go down the hill, they didn't have arrows showing you needed to stay on the right side, so we went on the left side. She was like, are we supposed to go this way? One time, she elbowed me and she was like, oh, I'm sorry. It just made me laugh, a young freshman talking. I'm like, oh, that's fine."

Cohen might have been somewhat of an unknown before her first varsity 5K victory, but that's likely to change. She won her school's two-mile race and was first in the frosh-soph division at an event in St. Joseph, Michigan before taking a distant second to Lilly Zelasko of New Prairie in Tuesday's New Prairie Invitational.

"I felt really good," Cohen said. "I was expecting to drop a little bit of time. I usually make my move near the end. I try to pace myself with the first runner, and start sprinting at like the 200 meters. Middle school is 3K, but I've been running a lot of other 5K races during middle school and over the summer, so I was kind of prepared. My time was like three minutes slower than it is now."

In fourth or fifth grade, Cohen won the half-mile challenge for her elementary school and was recruited to run cross country by the middle school coach, who happened be timing the meet. She won a conference title in track in seventh grade, then cross country and track in eighth grade. She was also the women's champion for the 2021 Race the Region Series.

"It's always fun to see new girls in the Region doing well. I'm excited to see what she has," Sobecki said. "We both raced. She started kicking and started to pull away. She was probably 15 meters ahead, we started sprinting, I was ahead of her. We were all out sprinting and she got me by the tiniest bit. Good for her. It was all I had. I'm not upset at all that I lost."

The centerpiece of a freshman-heavy Hobart team that took seventh among 16 scoring teams, Cohen is trying to take her success in stride.

"I want to go to state, but I'm kind of just going with the flow," she said. "I'm trying to get my time closer and closer to 18 minutes."

Lake Central topped Crown Point, 56-63, behind Roth, Vollrath and Sydney Churilla (fifth), for the team title. Marie Weber was 16th.

Cassie Cohen of Hobart edged La Porte's Brenna Sobecki for first place in Saturday's Bob Thomas Invitational at Lowell High School.

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