At first glance, Defiance senior Mhalicki Bronson is very unassuming.

In fact, he may be the shortest guy on Defiance’s 21-man roster.

But in this case, looks are definitely deceiving.

Bronson has finished first in all of his three races this year. And the best may be yet to come.

“Mhalicki is the fastest 5K runner that I’ve ever had,” said Defiance coach Obie Mouser, who has been a coach at Defiance since the mid 1970s and 5K races began in 1982. “He’s a kid that, going back to junior high, no one thought of him. But he’s gotten to where he is through a lot of hard work. Mhalicki has had a really good summer to get ready. We started doing swimming workouts, too, since August, but now we’re beginning to taper off on those. But Mhalicki really gets after it in the pool, too.”

The biggest race this season thus far for Bronson came with a first place finish at the Michigan State University Invitational last weekend.

“I came into the season with high expectations, but didn’t know what to expect at Michigan State, because a lot of runners were unknown,” Bronson said. “But afterwards, I found out that I had beaten the state of Michigan’s number one, two and three ranked runners. So that gave me a lot of confidence.”

Bronson, who has been running cross country since middle school, has earned Division I all-state honors in cross country in 2017 and at the Division I 3200 race in 2018. He finished 19th overall in 2017 as just a sophomore and then placed fifth last year in the track 3200 race, in 9:19.

That fifth place finish fueled Bronson for this cross country season. After two years at Division I, Defiance has dropped back down to Division II this year.

“Actually, the state’s fastest runners this year are in Division II,” Bronson said. “But my goal is to come out a state champion. There are others who are tough runners, too, (and could emerge toward the top) but right now, my toughest competition is Shelby’s Caleb Brown.”

Currently, Brown is ranked nationally at 13th and Bronson 14th. In Ohio, Brown is ranked first in the state and Bronson second. Mouser believes that Bronson has the mindset to pull off a state title.

“When it comes to state races, you have to be mentally tough and Mhalicki has that mental toughness,” Mouser said. “When it comes to running, Mhalicki is very methodical. In looking at goals, he does a lot of research and planning and figures out what he needs to do to make it happen. He’s a pretty deserving kid and I hope it works out for him. The one thing that holds him back is that he has a tendency to hang with the wrong crowd.”

Hanging with the wrong crowd cost Bronson and the Defiance team dearly in the 2018 cross country season. He won the WBL and district races, but the district race was his last of the season. Bronson was suspended from competing for the rest of the 2018 cross country season.

“That really hurt us team wise last year, with one of our other top five runners also getting suspended,” Mouser said. “We went from one of the top teams in the state, to not qualifying for state as a team.”

Bronson said that the suspension fueled him a bit more for this season.

“It definitely did, I have a lot to come back and make up for,” Bronson said.

Mouser also hopes that is the case.

“Mhalicki is pretty straight forward with his responsibilities,” Mouser said. “He’s a pretty straight up guy and makes no excuses. That helps him, too, in his races. If he has a bad race, he admits it. After placing 17th in the 3200 race in 2018, Bronson said afterwards that he was just not mentally ready for that type of race.”

Last year, of course, Bronson came back and placed fifth. In getting back to Bronson’s research and planning to help him achieve his goals, Bronson has been doing that since his freshman year in cross country.

“I wasn’t really good my freshman year, though I was the team’s fifth runner in a lot of races,” Bronson said. “As a sophomore, I started realizing I was fast, but I set a lot of goals for the future when I was a freshman. I set a goal as a sophomore to break 16 minutes and then as senior to become a state champion. My goal this year too is to break 15 minutes.”

At the end of his sophomore year in cross country, by the end of the season, Bronson emerged as Defiance’s top runner.

He was also very close that year to breaking 15 minutes, running a 16:01 at state. He is nearing his goal of going under 15 minutes, too.

Bronson ran a 15:15 in his opening meet of the season, the Defiance Early Bird on Aug. 24.

Bronson and Defiance’s next race is at the Kettering Fairmont Invitational on Sept. 28. While there is no race this weekend, Bronson said the team will simulate something close to a race today (Saturday). They may run a pair of two-mile races at a 5K race pace.

Along with individual goals, Bronson said the team goals are also important. The team wants to win a state title, this year.

“I think we’re capable, because we have a really deep team this year and we’re continually pushing each other to get better,” Bronson said. “All the boys want it and we’re pushing to get there.”

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