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By JONAH ROSENBLUM Staff Writer Published: September 26, 2017 4:00 AM
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When Hope Murphy needs a little inspiration in the middle of a run, she often thinks of Kylie Rose Jacobs, a friend of the family diagnosed with cancer in 2015.

"Kylie has been an enormous inspiration to me," said Murphy, a sophomore cross country runner at Mogadore. "Her story and her fight has continued to inspire me and pushes me. She is someone I think a lot about when I run."

And when Kylie, now 8, was unable to do her normal work filling "bags of love" full of goodies for teenagers with cancer due to an intense round of chemotherapy, Hope stepped in.

That's the way she is, her mother, Ann, said.

"Hope would love to do something to help out someone," Ann said. "She feels she's giving hope to other kids."

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She's giving hope to the Wildcats as well, even if they don't have enough girls yet to form a full cross country team.

"It's been really crazy to see how our program has turned around in the past two to three years," Hope said. "We're definitely progressing. It just shows in the number of girls we're turning out."

Even so, one of the brightest hopes for green-clad runners is Hope herself. At the PTC Super Duals, Murphy finished in 20:37.80 -- 32.95 seconds ahead of her closest competitor.

That after she made state in track and field last season.

Murphy, a sweet, soft-spoken sophomore, isn't likely to brag about that achievement or any other feat, but she's happy to talk about the cat her parents got her as a result of making state, named Jessie after famed runner Jesse Owens.

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"She's pretty level-headed," Ann said. "She's very humble. She will not be the first to ever tell anybody how good she is."

And while Hope may not say so, her ability to run cross country in the fall and the 100, 200 and 400 in the spring is rare and remarkable.

"It's very rare that you can find someone that can go all the way down to the 100 and all the way up to the two mile and be great at all that," Wildcats track and field coach Kim Kreiner said. "I am convinced that Hope could probably win an entire track meet by herself if she could do all the events, if we could spread it out. She could be good at whatever event we put her in, whether it's the 100 or the two mile."

But before she went to state and before she won the PTC Super Duals and before she sets all those records, Hope needed to make a slight shift in her approach.

Her freshman season, she ran a slower time than expected at the Region 9 race, placing 50th with a time of 22:27.29, nearly a minute-and-a-half slower than her time at the Portage Trail Conference championship meet. After, Ann, also a runner, told Hope it was important to figure out "where it went wrong."

The conclusion was simple.

"She focused too much on place and not just running her own race," Ann said.

"I'm better at reaching time goals than a place goal," Hope added.

Now, Hope is focused most intensely on time -- and her times have been very good.

"She sets up specific little goals that she wants to meet throughout the race, whether it's cross country or track," Kreiner said. "She has her own set of goals, and it doesn't always consist of, 'I just want to win.'"

That was helpful at the Super Duals, where, toward race's end, she ran virtually alone past the Goodyear blimp at Wingfoot Lake State Park. As she circled a lonesome soccer field making her way to the open meadow where the crowd stood in eager anticipation and the finish line, Hope had plenty to drive her forward. After the Super Duals, she said she was happy to have won, flashing a soft smile, but she had other goals in mind, like clearing 20 minutes.

"The really good ones don't focus on winning," Kreiner said. "They know what they want to work on and they have little benchmarks they want to hit during the season."

Kreiner knows something about "the really good ones" -- she went to the Olympics.

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