If the Robbinsville High girls’ track & field team looks similar at the start and finish of its 4×400 relay races, there’s a good reason.
Leading off the race is Kelly Koss. Finishing it up is her twin sister, Katie.
And yes, there are double takes from other runners, who are wondering if the leadoff girl is pulling double duty as the anchorwoman.
“Yeah, we get some stares sometimes during races,” Kelly said with a laugh.
But the two have more than just looks in common. They have quietly developed into two of the Ravens’ most valuable runners in helping them to their first-ever Mercer County Track & Field Championships title.
The similarities don’t end there.
Both played field hockey. Both went out for track to stay in shape for field hockey. Both started in the javelin before easing into full-time runners, and both are pleasantly surprised that they will be competing in track at their respective colleges next year.
“They’re a good story,” coach Mike Walker said. “Especially considering they were not that into track until, really, last year. They were typical little freshmen/sophomores that didn’t have confidence and wanted to try throwing javelin instead of doing sprint workouts. Now they are some of the top [runners] in the county.
“Katie has quietly become one of our best runners. And she and Kelly just bookended our school’s first victory at Penn Relays in the 4×400 heat. They have added much depth to our team.”
One could challenge Walker’s statement about Katie “quietly” becoming a top runner, as she is pretty much a known commodity these days. After winning the 400 in last year’s Mercer County spring meet, she repeated the feat indoors this past winter, and defended her outdoor title at the May 12 outdoor meet with a personal record time of 58.3 seconds.
Katie admitted to feeling some pressure to defend her crown.
“I did want to keep it,” she said. “I felt like I should because I won it last year. I got out faster than usual, and I just had to give it all I had at the end and that’s what I did.”
The twins started in different arenas as little girls, with Kelly playing soccer and Katie doing dance. They joined forces to play hockey and then decided to use track as a bridge between field hockey seasons.
Kelly admitted that running, however, was not her greatest pleasure.
“I first went out for track to focus on getting in shape for field hockey,” Kelly said. “I was always a runner when I started track, but I joined javelin to try something new and to get out of the workouts. I wasn’t good at javelin at all, but at the time I just did it so I didn’t have to run a lot. I was nowhere near placing with my throws.”
Katie was a little more tolerant of the running, especially since her javelin abilities were on par with her sister’s.
“I never hated running,” she said. “And I was really bad in the javelin. I still ran the 400 my sophomore year, and I just got better and better at the event. I guess I just gained more muscle, I got more in shape, got more endurance and more technique on how to run it.”
Walker and his assistant coaches both saw the twins’ potential in running, and used it for the betterment of the team.
“I think we saw what little future they had in the javelin, so we pushed them more into the sprints as sophomores,” he said. “They were just out to stay in shape for field hockey, and that’s how we sold the permanent move to sprinter instead of the 30-foot javelin thrower.
“They showed promise, but Katie didn’t have her breakout races until spring of junior year.”
Once she broke out, she blossomed, starting with last spring’s MCT title.
“After that meet, I knew I wanted to get better and I wanted to run in college,” said Katie, who will run at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia next year.
Katie has also broken the school record in the 400 several times, only to have it re-broken by teammate Noel Jancewicz, who is one of the county’s top performers in pretty much anything she chooses to do.
This year’s effort at the Penn Relays also went down as a highlight for the sisters.
“That was really great,” Katie said. “Our school has never done that before. We got a plaque, some medals. It was awesome.”
They enjoyed the experience.
“It’s really nice,” Katie said. “It was a huge crowd, you’re running around the UPenn track, it’s really cool. There’s a lot of people in your heat.”
Katie’s emergence in the 400 had a trickle down effect to Kelly, who uses her sister to get better.
“Katie paces me throughout the 400 when we run together because I just started running it this past winter,” Kelly said. “I used to always do the 100 and 200 my sophomore and junior year. I have learned a lot from her on how to run it, and she told me how to pace it myself because she has been doing it for a couple of years now.”
Like many siblings, the two are competitive but close.
“Since we run the same events now, we know what each other goes through during our races and while competing,” Kelly said.
“We are competitive,” Katie said. “We push each other when we run. I know she’s coming right behind me and I pace it for her. We want to both do well together.”
They will be separated next year as Kelly will be running at Ramapo.
“I never even thought about track in college until the end of this winter season,” Kelly said. “But from my first scrimmage in the past winter season to now, I’ve dropped nine seconds off my 400 time.”
“When I first started track I never thought I’d be going to college for it,” added Kate. “I don’t think I really thought about it until I started doing well last spring.”
Walker has enjoyed watching the two progress.
“They are both pretty quiet and unassuming girls on the team,” the coach said. “They have similar personalities, but Katie got into really racing and having confidence in her ability to run fast a little earlier than Kelly. Kelly didn’t come on and start touching her true potential until this past winter season.
“They are great to have on the team. They’re both on record-setting relay teams (4×400 and 4×100). They work hard and are very consistent in their performances. It has been cool to see them grow and mature in this sport, and I think they are going to be great additions to the schools they end up at.”
And since they’ll be at different schools, at least there won’t be any more confusion during those relay events.