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Frewsburg’s Barber To Run X-Country At Roberts Wesleyan

Acacia Barber, flanked by her parents John and Heather, recently signed her national letter of intent to attend Roberts Wesleyan University and run cross country for the Redhawks. In back, from left, are: Sandy Ruhlman, Frewsburg cross country coach; Tiffany Frederes, Frewsburg High School principal; and Adam Loftus, Frewsburg track and field coach. Submitted photo

Acacia Barber seems to have things figured out a little better than most 17-year-olds.

She’s also a pretty good runner.

With that in mind, the Frewsburg senior recently signed her national letter of intent to attend Roberts Wesleyan College in suburban Rochester and run NCAA Division II cross country for the Redhawks.

“I was looking for a Christian college. I didn’t want to go to a Division I college for athletics because I wanted to focus on academics at the same time,” Barber said. “Roberts Wesleyan is a Christan college and it was important for me to get that worldview. … I visited in December and I really liked the campus. The coaches were both really fun and excited to see me.”

Coached by Sandy Ruhlman, Barber has experienced quite a ride over the last five years.

“Coach is like my favorite person in the whole world,” Barber said. “She’s taught me so much about how to be better at running and about character. … I’m going to miss her a lot.”

As an eighth-grader, Barber finished eighth at the Section VI state qualifier at Beaver Island State Park with a time of 20:06.59 and was then 41st among Class D runners at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships with a time of 20:40.2 at Chenango Valley State Park.

“Any student-athlete, you can just tell by their track record … she works hard on the cross country course and in the classroom,” Ruhlman said of Barber. “Even if I’m not there, if I tell her to do a hard workout, she would do it because she has the self-discipline.”

A year later, Barber took fifth at the state qualifier with a time of 19:35.68 at Bemus Point Golf Club and 22nd at the state championships with a time of 21:33.8 at Wayne Central School. As a sophomore, she was again fifth at the state qualifier with a time of 20:41.78 at Bemus Point Golf Club and 34th at the state championships with a time of 21:41.6 at Sunken Meadow State Park.

She hit her stride the last two years.

Literally.

In 2019, Barber finished third at the state qualifier with a time of 20:28.85 at Knox Farms before finishing 14th in the state with a time of 18:27.7 at SUNY Plattsburgh.

“I’ve been thinking about running in college for a long time. I feel like it’s become part of who I am. I probably wouldn’t have as much fun in college if I wasn’t running,” she said. “It definitely helps me feel more confident in myself and my own abilities. I’ve learned how to prepare myself and I’ve become more competitive over the years. Junior year I really learned how to compete and I could get pretty far in running.”

This past fall, Barber won the Section VI state qualifier at Bemus Point Golf Club with a time of 20:08.14, but the NYSPHSAA Championships were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was just happy we had a season. I was glad to have the last year with my team,” said Barber, who is “pretty sure” she will study social work with a Spanish minor in college. “My team is more of a big deal than me winning personally.”

Instead of states, Barber and a few of her teammates competed at the 12th Rock Northeast Regional Championship in late November at Twin Ponds on the Farm in Montgomery. There, running against athletes from many larger schools in neighboring states, Barber finished 47th with a time of 19:34.

“Part of it is a testament to her work ethic and her mental toughness. To get a little bit faster, you have to do a little bit more, a little bit differently,” Ruhlman said. “You have to find those extra 2 seconds, in a speed workout or in the offseason. I think she came in in better shape this season than in the past.”

For many of her years at Frewsburg, there weren’t many girls on the team so Barber would find herself competing against the boys on the Bears team to improve her times.

“One of the things that sticks out to me would be her tenacity,” Ruhlman said. “She’s one of those kids who can push herself and keep going. I feel she benefited because we practice together with the boys. She would of course try to beat some of the boys … and that has really helped push her.”

In many races, Barber would find herself more than a minute ahead of her closest competition, and would have to look forward to invitationals or one or two league meets to find her best competition.

During her first two years, Cattaraugus-Little Valley’s Abby and Bailey Gostomski would provide some of the best Class D competition. Eventually, Clymer/Sherman/Panama’s Kylee Odell began to dominate the Chautauqua County running scene. And all along, powerhouse Maple Grove would churn our runners like Grace Auer, Christina Peppy and Ava Crist.

“Between Maple Grove and C/S/P having some top runners traditionally … it’s been great because as you get older you are trying to beat those faster kids,” Ruhlman said. “By the time she was a junior and senior, she was the one people were trying to beat.”

Coincidentally, Odell will now be one of her teammates at Roberts Wesleyan when she arrives in the fall.

“I’m excited because Kylee is at Roberts,” Barber said. “That’s pretty cool to have people I’ve run with.”

And Ruhlman has no doubt that Barber will be successful athletically and academically on campus in Chili.

“She would never hand in work that isn’t excellent,” Ruhlman said of Barber’s work in the classroom. “That’s why she’s good at cross country. She’s not willing to put in a day that’s not excellent.”

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