Looking for an athletic release in her first year at Central Crossing High School, Brenda Pereyra Perez took up track and field.
It didn't take long for coach Doug Boggs to figure out Pereyra Perez, a native of the Dominican Republic who moved to the area last year before her junior year, would provide an immediate boost for the Comets girls team in sprinting events and the long jump.
"They (coaches) just told me I'd do those things," Pereyra Perez said, laughing. "They put me in anything they thought was good for me. I didn't want to do the 400 (meters), but that's where they put me. They knew I'd get better at it, and it ended up being my race. I love it now."
Pereyra Perez took to the track immediately, placing fourth in the 400 in the Division I, district 2 meet last year (1 minute, .91 of a second) to earn a regional berth. She fell one spot shy of advancing in the 200, placing fifth in 26.86. At regional, she was 11th in the 400 (1:01.11).
Her postseason performance led to her receiving 33 letters from colleges as of last week. Nine are from Ohio schools, including Miami University, Mount Union, Muskingum, Ohio Dominican and Wittenberg.
"I think I surprised a lot of people because I hadn't been in track that long," said Pereyra Perez, who participated in basketball and gymnastics as a youth. "It was difficult early, but I just enjoyed it a lot more the longer I did it."
That success has carried over to this year. In the Arnold Sports Festival indoor meet March 2, Pereyra Perez was fourth in the long jump in a personal-best 16 feet, 3 inches and 11th in the 200 (27.44).
"She's quite an athlete anyway. She built up strength through the years with ballet and gymnastics, so (the long jump) was a pretty natural fit," Boggs said. "She doesn't really have the technique down yet. Right now, it's pure power. There's a lot of room for improvement."
Pereyra Perez lived in Pamplona, Spain, for several years before moving to central Ohio. Opting not to take part in basketball or gymnastics, friends encouraged her to try track.
"It's fun because you're all together and get to hang out and do something you're good at it," she said. "You have one goal and you can do it. You can do something good for your future."
The Comets' immediate future is the 11th annual Best of the South-West Invitational with host Franklin Heights, Grove City and Westland on Friday, April 19. Grove City's boys won last year by .5 points, scoring 70.5 to finish ahead of Central Crossing (70), Franklin Heights (56.5) and Westland (56).
Franklin Heights won the girls competition (92.5), followed by Grove City (71.5), Central Crossing (69.5) and Westland (56).
Central Crossing swept the event each of its first nine years.
"It's something that's super exciting. It gets a big crowd out and a lot of people cheering," Boggs said. "The goal is to win it and bring it back here."
Grove City has the same attitude, fueled by the boys' close victory last year. Returning event winners for the Greyhounds are senior Matt Geroski in the pole vault (10-0) and junior Ethan Jean-Louis in the high jump (6-2).
"It will be a great meet," Grove City coach Jane Taylor said. "With us winning a close meet last year on the boys side, the kids are shooting for keeping the championship plaque at Grove City. Every place is crucial and an entire team effort is essential if we want to earn top team honors."
The Grove City girls are coming off a second-place effort in the Little State Meet on April 13 at Eastmoor Academy. The Greyhounds (113) were runners-up to Eastmoor (127) as senior Annie Winkler won the 3,200 (13:19.26) and the 3,200 relay placed first (12:01.64).
Standout athletes for Franklin Heights include sophomore thrower Justin Harris, who had winning throws of 46-9 in the shot put and 111-10 in the discus in a tri-meet April 9 against Mount Vernon and Westland, as well as senior Lakaya Fearon (high jump), junior Rekwan Boyd (hurdles, sprints), sophomore Briannya Dangerfield (hurdles) and freshman Micah Few (sprints).
Westland's expected top contributors include seniors Melina Gaines (jumps, discus) Sydney Lutz (discus) and Odunayo Shobo (sprints), junior Giann Martinez (sprints) and sophomore Seth Farmer (distance). Farmer was part of Piketon's 3,200 relay that placed 15th (8:28.15) in the Division II state meet last season.
"(The Best of the South-West) is a chance to show the rest of the district that we run a class program with great kids and great coaches," Westland coach Tim Eckard said. "I will let the chips fall where they may with regards to the score."