Staff Photo: John Bohn Brookwood senior cross country runner Morgan Malanoski will attempt to lead his team to its third straight state title at the state meet in Carrollton.
Like a lot of Brookwood cross country runners, Morgan Malanoski had to wait his turn.
Malanoski ran on the Broncos' junior varsity as an underclassman, marveling over the success of the varsity program.
Now a senior at Brookwood, Malanoski is no longer waiting in the background. He's worked himself into one of the state's top runners and has Brookwood primed for a third state title run on Saturday in Carrollton.
"When you have success, you feel great about it, but you always want more," Malanoski said. "You want that next race to be better and better."
Malanoski won last week's Region 8-AAAAA championship and placed second at the Gwinnett County championship. He's had a lot of individual success, but will put that to the side if it means another state crown.
Malanoski doesn't care if he finishes first, second or 21st at Saturday's state meet. As long as his performance helps his Brookwood team to the Class AAAAA state championship, he'll take whatever individual placement comes.
"Yeah, I'm more concerned about that cup," Malanoski said. "However it turns out, as long as the team does well, whatever happens after that I'm not too concerned."
It was at the state meet last year that Malanoski made a name for himself. He was one of the Broncos' top two or three runners all year. Then he was Brookwood's top finisher at state, placing fourth.
"He's always been a guy who performs well under pressure," Brookwood coach Ben Dehnke said. "The pressure is not bigger, in our sport, than at the state meet."
Malanoski began running as a freshman as a way to get in shape for swimming. He only swam to get in shape for baseball. He grew up playing second base and shortstop and always thought he would play baseball one day in college.
He never imagined he would fall in love with running until he joined cross country as a freshman.
"I came out for the team and I found out I loved cross country more than anything," Malanoski said.
Malanoski dropped swimming and baseball and focused solely on running. He spent two years on the JV, which is common for most Brookwood runners. He stepped on the varsity as a junior and took seventh at county, the Coach Wood Invitational and the Region 8 meet.
"He had been No. 2, 3, 4 finisher for us. There he finished first for us and kind of stepped it up for us on a big day," Dehnke said. "I'm expecting he'll do the same for us this year."
Malanoski opened the year with a win at the Berry Invitational. He took second at county and at Coach Wood behind defending state champion Josh Brickell from Peachtree Ridge. He finished 12th at the Great American Cross Country Festival, where he posted a personal record of 15 minutes, 36 seconds.
With Malanoski's success, Brookwood has thrived as well. The Broncos have won every in-state meet this year, including a convincing win at Coach Wood, where some of the state's top teams where in attendance.
"The team has pretty much been doing amazing and we hope to continue that through state," Malanoski said.
Brookwood has built a tradition of winning the first weekend in November. Malanoski watched as Brookwood won the title in 2009 and had a strong performance in last year's title win.
He wants to continue that success in his final high school race.
"There's always pressure. It's the state meet. It's a big level. We feel comfortable, but we're still focused and going out hard," Malanoski said. "For this team and the two teams that have won before us, three in a row is a big accomplishment."
For more stories on Brookwood, go to www.gwinnettprepsports.com/brookwood.