OSWEGO — They’re always on the run and having fun.
Oswego High School seniors Molly FitzGibbons and Miranda Gilbert have taken similar paths to success. Both are scholar athletes (FitzGibbons is the class valedictorian), and both have starred in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track for the Buccaneers.
Not only have they stood out on the Oswego team, they have been among the best distance runners in Section III for the past few years.
Now, they are being recognized as The Palladium-Times Female Athletes of the Year.
“They’re both deserving,” said Dom Pike, Oswego’s varsity indoor track coach. “Their willingness and eagerness to compete makes you want to come to practice every day. They know what it takes to get better and they set an example for the other kids.”
“Coaching Molly and Miranda has been such fun,” said Kristina Taylor, the Bucs’ varsity girls outdoor track coach. “I have really enjoyed the energy, excitement, and dedication they bring to the team and the impact they have had on their younger teammates.”
Cross country coach Catherine Celeste said that with FitzGibbons and Gilbert, “It was like all of the stars aligned with talent, drive, and grit. Both girls had a great support system in their coaches, families, and teammates, and because of all of these factors they were able to improve in leaps and bounds year after year.”
Here are profiles of The Palladium-Times 2019-2020 Female Athletes of the Year.
The daughter of Theresa and Lawrence FitzGibbons, Molly began running five-kilometer races at a young age. In middle school she ran on the cross country and track teams. After playing soccer for a couple of years in the fall season, she returned to cross country as a sophomore with stunning success. At the Section III Championships, she placed fifth in Class B and qualified for the state meet, where she placed 14th and won a medal.
Gilbert finished right behind her at the sectionals, placing sixth.
“When they came around the turn for the last 200 meters at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill, they were pushing each other and both of them made the state meet together,” Pike said. “Watching that happen is something I’ll never forget.”
“It was like a nice starting point for the rest of your high school career,” FitzGibbons said.
In 2018 she placed seventh in Section III Class A and again qualified for states, finishing 19th. In 2019, FitzGibbons placed 11th at the Section III Class A Meet, just missing out on a state bid.
In her senior season of indoor track, FitzGibbons won Section III Class A titles in the 1,500 meters and the 3,000 meters. She placed fifth in both events at the State Qualifier Meet. She raced in states in the 3,000 meters and placed 17th (10:21.68).
FitzGibbons also advanced to state-meet competition in her sophomore season of outdoor track. At the state qualifier meet, she placed fifth in the 3,000 meters and second in the 2,000-meter steeplechase with a state-qualifying time. She went on to place ninth in Division I at the states in the steeplechase.
In 2019 as a junior, FitzGibbons won the 3,000 meters and the 2,000-meter steeplechase at the Section III Class A Meet. At the state qualifier meet, she placed second in the Division I 2,000-meter steeplechase.
Who knows what she might have accomplished in her senior outdoor track season? It was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic that also caused an abrupt end to school and regular contact with her teammates and friends.
“It’s sad, but I think it’s good that we have college to look forward to. I’m sad about it, but it’s not the end of the world,” she said.
The OHS Class of 2020 valedictorian and a Section III Scholar Athlete, FitzGibbons somehow found a way to excel in academics as a three-sport athlete.
It’s all about balance and allotting time to get things done, including proper rest.
“Always try to get enough sleep to run. You’ve got to get your homework done, but try to get your eight hours,” she said.
As for her athletic accomplishments, FitzGibbons gives much of the credit to her coaches and teammates, especially Gilbert.
“Everyone’s been very supportive,” she said. “Miranda’s been good to push me at practice. Sometimes I’ll be jogging along and she starts running faster, so I have to start running faster.”
“Molly has an amazing dedication to running,” Coach Taylor said. “She is involved in many extracurriculars at school and with her dedication to the sport, she maintains the highest caliber of training possible.”
“Molly is very goal-oriented and plans out what needs to be done to accomplish those goals, from knowing who to run ahead of her behind, to what her pace needs to be, to where she needs to place,” Coach Celeste said.
FitzGibbons said one of the best pieces of coaching advice she received came from Coach Pike. “He always tells us that we should set our goals high. We should never limit ourselves. Always think you can go faster.”
She will take that advice and plenty of memories to Williams College in Massachusetts this fall, where she tentatively plans to study biology and compete in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track.
“Athletically, I want to do well in college. Career wise, I’m not really sure yet. I have an interest in agriculture and maybe the medical field,” she said.
The daughter of Amanda and Gregory Gilbert, Miranda began running track as a freshman and added cross country the next year.
“My sister was a competitive runner, so I quit soccer and dance at the beginning of freshman year and I joined track and ended up really liking it,” she said.
She had immediate success in cross country. Gilbert placed sixth in the 2017 Section III Class B Meet, one spot behind FitzGibbons. At the state meet, she took 30th place.
After missing out on states in 2018, she returned to states in her senior year. She placed 10th at the Class A sectionals to qualify. Gilbert placed 37th in the Class A states and advanced to the elite Federation Meet, where she finished 63rd.
“That was cool. I was glad to be able to keep competing and see how well I could do,” Gilbert said.
A highlight of her indoor track career was placing fourth at the 2019 state qualifier meet and making the states as part of the section’s distance medley relay team. The foursome placed second at the state meet, and Gilbert won a medal.
Knee problems kept her from competing in indoor track as a senior. She was hoping to return to action this spring in the outdoor track season, but the pandemic spoiled that possibility.
“It was sad, but I understand why they couldn’t have school or sports,” she said. “I just missed the team a ton, and was hoping to come back from my injury and race.”
In her junior outdoor track season, Gilbert won the Section III Class A title in the 1,500 meters. She placed second in the 1,500 meters and sixth in the 3,000 meters at the state qualifier meet, but missed out on advancing to states.
Still, it was a Buccaneer career filled with highlights. She thanked FitzGibbons, the coaches, and the rest of her teammates for their support, along with her father. “He’s super supportive,” Gilbert said.
As for a moment that stands out, Gilbert said, “Every time I’m with the team. We always had a fun time.”
Those running against Gilbert will know that she’s ready for every challenge.
“Miranda brings a huge sense of determination to her endeavors,” Coach Taylor said. “She knows what she needs to do to be successful, and she is incredibly determined to reach those goals.”
“Miranda is a very competitive athlete,” Coach Celeste said. “She revels in beating other athletes and does everything she can to reach her goals, including extra workouts.”
That effort also serves her well in the classroom as a scholar athlete. Gilbert plans out time to hit the books.
“If I didn’t have anything after practice I’d just go home, maybe take an hour to relax, and then do homework,” she said.
The next stop for Gilbert is Siena College, where she will compete in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track for the NCAA Division I Saints. She has not yet decided on a major. Undoubtedly, she will figure things out on the run.
“I’m just want to PR in my events. I want to have fun while I’m doing everything,” she said.