Moments before his team’s first meet of the season, Jeremy Huth knew something was wrong.
One of his runners, Kenna Loveless, felt noticeably uncomfortable.
"We got off the bus and she’s sick as a dog as we’re warming up," said Huth, who has been Tallmadge High School’s head girls and boys cross country coach since 2006.
Huth was fully prepared to err on the side of caution. Thus, the coach’s decision was an easy one: Loveless was not going to run.
Once he made up his mind, Huth talked to his promising pupil’s mother about the situation. After that, the mother and daughter had a private talk regarding the not-so-pleasant news.
Moments later, though, Huth had the rug pulled out from under him.
"Her mom told me, ‘She’s running,’" the perplexed distance-running guru said.
As it turned out, she ran rather well.
Loveless shook off her illness and wound up finishing ninth out of 107 runners at the Berkshire Early Bird Invitational at the Kent State University Geauga Campus.
By the way, this famous tale took place back in 2016 when Loveless was a rather unproven freshman.
It’s safe to say she’s no longer unproven now.
Loveless recently signed a national letter of intent to continue her academic, cross country and track and field careers at Ohio University in Athens. She plans to major in exercise science with a pre-physician assistant concentration.
Loveless said she hopes to attend a physician assistant program after college. She chose the Mid-American Conference public research university over Kent State, Akron, Ball State in Indiana and Pittsburgh.
"I eventually chose OU because I got along really well with the team," Loveless said. "The campus is beautiful and their exercise science program is really strong.
"I’ve always heard people say that OU has a pretty campus and it’s definitely true. It feels like the college campuses you see in the movies. There is a ton of greenery and beautiful running trails. The team always has a place to run."
Ohio University’s women’s cross country team finished seventh at the Mid-American Conference Championships last year. The Bobcats’ women’s track and field team finished 11th at the 2019 MAC Championships. Both teams are led by head coach Clay Calkins.
"I would hope to make an impact in the top seven in cross country right away," Loveless said. "One of the goals that I have while running for OU is to be an All-MAC performer down the road."
Like her former cross country coach, Loveless has fond memories of her first high school race. Well, the end result was a fond memory, at least.
"I actually threw up a few times before the race and my teammates and I were convinced I was sick," Loveless said. "Looking back, I think I was just really nervous. I felt sick the whole way there and wasn’t able to warm up well.
"My mom convinced me that I would be OK and sent me to the starting line. It was a crazy day and it makes me realize how far I’ve come since that first race."
She has come very, very far.
In fact, Loveless will leave Tallmadge as one of the greatest female distance runners in school history.
She was a four-time All-Ohioan with the Blue Devils, who had their greatest season ever last fall. Thanks mainly to their unflappable senior, Tallmadge finished third at the 2019 Division II state meet.
Loveless did her part by placing eighth to conclude her stellar career on the podium. She also finished 17th as a junior, 19th as a sophomore and 18th as a freshman.
"You hope that kids continue to improve and she did," Huth said. "It’s a testament to her work ethic.
"I posted a tweet at the end of [last] season with a picture of Kenna. It said, ‘This is what it takes to be a champion.’ Other kids are drawn to her work ethic. Like Kenna, they want to go out and run by themselves."
Considering her massive success, it’s hard to believe that Loveless didn’t take 3.1-mile courses seriously until her freshman year. Prior to giving cross country a try, Loveless was a volleyball player. She also played basketball during the winter before she gave up hoops for good after her sophomore year.
On top of that, Loveless was the starting second baseman on Tallmadge’ Little League team that reached the World Series in 2014.
In the end, distance running turned out to be the gifted senior’s calling. It certainly made sense. Her mother Karyn, who was the Blue Devils head cross country coach in the early 2000s, and father Jim were both standout runners at Kent State. In case you’re wondering, Jim was an All-American while competing for the Golden Flashes.
"I’ve grown up around the sport since both of my parents ran collegiately and I’ve always loved to run," Loveless said. "I think it really clicked that I could do well when I first broke the 5K school record in cross country my freshman year."
Despite her lack of mileage before high school, Loveless wasn’t exactly a novice when it came to running. She has competed on track and field teams since she was in the seventh grade.
Loveless is pretty decent at track too.
She finished 17th in the 3,200-meter race at the 2019 outdoor state track and field meet. Loveless also owns the indoor school record in the 3,200.
Sadly, the talented senior’s high school career may be on the verge of ending prematurely.
Due to the coronavirus, the outdoor spring season has been suspended indefinitely.
"This situation has been tough on me," Loveless admitted. "I definitely had goals for my senior track season and I’m hoping I still have the chance to accomplish them.
"I’m lucky that my college decision has been made and I feel for those juniors and seniors that need this chance to prove themselves."
Loveless, who did not miss a single cross country race due to injury or illness during her four years at Tallmadge, couldn’t escape the injury bug during the spring season.
Prior to last year, Loveless was hindered by shin splints that may have cost her from being a multiple-time state qualifier on the track.
Thankfully, she had no such issues in 2019.
"Kenna is not just a runner," said Mike Srodawa, who has been the Blue Devils head girls and boys track and field coach since 1998. "She’s an athlete. Last year, she changed her off-season training. She focused more on strength training and that made a huge difference. From a personal standpoint, she’s a great kid."
Loveless may have a chance to race again sometime in May. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine recently announced that schools will be closed until at least May 1 due to the virus.
Of course, if the pandemic continues in the coming weeks, her days of running on Tallmadge’s new track may never occur.
Regardless, Loveless won’t be too disheartened if everything comes to a crashing halt. The determined teenager has enjoyed every second of her brilliant career.
In sickness and in health.
"I’ve truly loved my time running for Tallmadge and I’ll definitely miss my teammates and coaches," Loveless said. "It was a dream come true to have my senior year of cross country end how it did. I’m so proud of how we competed as a team and the hard work we put in during the season paid off when it counted.
"Coach Huth and Coach Srodawa both had a huge impact on my running career. Huth used to run workouts with me my freshman year to make sure I had someone to push me. He has made me a better runner and a better person.
"Srodawa really helped me throughout the recruiting process and guided me through that stressful time. I can’t thank them both enough."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_Gannett.