Jean Kozyniak is relishing being able to run again.
The St Catherine's College athlete was sidelined by injury for almost a year but has quickly regained winning form.
Kozyniak, 16, won the under-19 division in the Vosseler Shield competition last month and followed that by taking the senior girls title at the College Sport Wellington cross-country championships at Trentham last week.
The year 12 pupil finished more than 20 seconds ahead of old rival Susannah Lynch (St Mary's) with defending champion Ariana Harper (Wellington Girls') third.
Kozyniak was thrilled to have been able to match her rivals so early in her comeback.
"I was really happy, because I thought it would take longer," she said. "It was a bit of a shock but a good shock. I was expecting to finish in the first three but didn't expect to win against Ariana and Susannah."
Kozyniak's injury woes began with a stress fracture in an ankle, on the eve of the 2011 Wellington cross-country championships.
While that was being treated, it was found that she also had a large cyst in a heel, which required a bone graft. After the October operation, Kozyniak was in a cast for six weeks and then on crutches.
"I didn't start training again properly till last holidays," she said. "I was able to do quite a bit of swimming after the cast came off but I still haven't got as much strength as I did."
Kozyniak missed a season of cross-country and track, including the opportunity to make the New Zealand team for the world secondary schools cross-country championships in Malta. "There were a few opportunities I missed and that was really frustrating."
Her next target will be the national secondary schools cross-country championships, in Auckland on Saturday week.
Kozyniak has already been a national titleholder, beating Lynch to win the secondary schools junior cross-country title in 2010, after finishing second to Lynch in the year 9 race the previous year.
However, Kozyniak is not setting her sights too high in the senior division this year. "I will aim for a top five finish and will be happy if I can get that.
"Susannah and Ariana will be pushing me again and there will be a lot of strong runners in the field."
Kozyniak expects Canterbury's Rosa Flanagan to be a formidable rival in Auckland. Flanagan, from Rangi Ruru, won the junior title at the nationals last year and finished fifth in the world secondary schools championships in March, 20 places ahead of Lynch, who was the second New Zealand runner to finish.
Harper finished fifth in the senior division at the nationals last year and her track form was outstanding this year.
Lynch, who was fourth in the junior division last year, has been competing against Kozyniak since primary school days. "We are good friends and have been racing each other since around 2007," Kozyniak said.
The Kozyniak family went close to a winning double last week, with Jean's sister, Josie, finishing second to Alison Andrews-Paul (Wairarapa College) in the intermediate girls, with Phoebe Anderson (Onslow) third. Madeline Wilson (Marsden) took the junior girls title, ahead of Anna Gibbs (Wellington Girls') and Jayme-Lee Hunter (Chilton).
Kieron McDonald provided the high point of a big day for Scots College, retaining his senior boys title. He beat schoolmate Nicholas Pointon with Marcus Karamanolis (St Pat's Town) third. Warkina Tujuba (St Pat's Town) was fourth in the senior boys, with Tim Robertson (HIBS) and Nathan Tse (Scots) next. Scots claimed the three individual boys titles and also produced the first two placegetters in the intermediate division, with James Fletcher beating Tom Caughley and Trent Dobson (HIBS) third.
Callum Stewart (Scots) took the junior boys title, ahead of Adam Moloney (Wairarapa) and Elroy Lederman (Onslow).
McDonald, a year 13 pupil, is aiming for a medal at the national championships, in what will be his last appearance. "That's the goal though it will be hard. But hopefully I will be able to pull something out."
New Plymouth runner Matt Baxter, the runner-up in the senior division last year, is likely to be the hardest.
McDonald finished seventh last year, though did not have an ideal buildup as he was also preparing for the 800m at the Commonwealth Youth Games in September.
The track remains McDonald's priority but he is enjoying the cross-country season more than in the past and has made a greater commitment this year.
"I've realised how important it is as a buildup to the track season."
A top-12 finish at the nationals would also ensure McDonald makes the New Zealand team to compete at the Australian secondary schools championships in Adelaide in August. "That's another goal."
Scots College won the three-member teams competition in each of the boys divisions last week, while St Mary's won the senior girls, Tawa the intermediate girls and Marsden the junior teams.
St Pat's Town won the senior six-member boys team contest, with six inside the top 20, with Wellington College taking the intermediate section and Scots the junior. Tawa College won the senior girls, Wellington Girls' the intermediate and Marsden the junior.
Ashley Carmichael (Upper Hutt College) won the AWD boys 2km and Morrisson Ruby (Solway College) took the girls section.
Follow news about Wellington teams on Twitter @dompost_sport
- © Fairfax NZ News
Do you think Mark Hammett has done a good job as the Hurricanes coach this season?