Pentucket senior Kasey Mann is a big believer in silver linings.

After her path to the Sachems’ cross country program as this year’s No. 1 runner, it’s certainly easy to understand why.

A home-schooled student from Merrimac, Mann hadn’t been involved with Pentucket athletics in her first two years of high school. Then, two years ago, she suffered a ruptured appendix. Followed by further complications, she spent a month at Boston Children’s Hospital recovering.

“I had been sitting around and doing nothing and I wanted to get back in shape,” said Mann. “I started running two days a week in the summer at the River Rival runs.

“I had never liked running but a friend of mine from Triton said I should try cross country. I didn’t want to do it at first because I had a bad experience with team sports when I was younger, but I finally decided to give it a try.”

Mann didn’t have great expectations.

“I thought maybe I could be in the top seven ... I thought that would be good,” said Mann. “Then I finished second in the first meet. I finished second every meet (to Marissa Porter, now a freshman runner at Marist).”

By that first meet, Mann realized that her decision to get back in shape had taken her on an exhilarating path.

“I had grown to like running and I realized that running cross country could be more of a team sport,” she said. “I love the team aspect of it and I love the team.”

“That was tough being laid out in the hospital for so long. But now I look back at it as a good thing.”

If it’s been good for her, it’s been great for the Sachems. She pushed Porter throughout the season a year ago and is now Pentucket’s No. 1 runner.

“Last year was great and I know it helped me (being behind Porter),” said Mann. “(Pentucket coach Todd) Ruland said it was a push-me, pull-me situation. She wanted to stay in front of me and I wanted to close the gap. It was good for both of us.

“I kind of like being second better. I could gauge myself by how she (Porter) was doing. Now I set the pace.”

But, as a home-schooled student since the sixth grade, setting her own pace is nothing new for Mann. She’s an excellent student, who has taken five advanced classes at Northern Essex Community College, and she’s become a superb musician, playing the piano, pipe organ and saxophone and participating in the Pentucket jazz band.

She’s been playing the piano for 10 years and has no problem practicing on her own

“I like to practice between subjects,” she says.

She now gives piano lessons to other home-school students.

Long range, Mann wants to attend Gordon College and study music therapy, with a goal of working with Alzheimer patients or children with special needs. She’s already planning on running cross country and track at Gordon.

But first, Mann is focused on the cross country season.

“I’d like to get 19:45 for a time at the CAL (Cape Ann League) meet and qualify for the state meet,” she said.

That would be fine for Ruland, who is just ecstatic to have Mann on the team.

“She’s a very hard worker and a real inspiration,” said Ruland. “She came back strong this year and has been great for our program.”

And to think, it probably never would have happened had it not been for those painful days in the hospital.

Adding the sport

Plymouth State University has added cross country to its sports program and there are several area runners on the men’s squad.

This is the first women’s cross country team at Plymouth State, while the men’s team previously competed at the varsity level in the 1970s before the program was discontinued in 1980.

The Panthers are led by head coach Dave Severance, a 1981 Plymouth State graduate and a member of the PSU Athletic Hall of Fame. He was the boys and girls cross country coach at Moultonborough Academy (N.H.) the past decade and, as a runner, earned All-America honors for Plymouth State in the 10,000 meters. He has also completed more than 20 marathons.

The men’s team is led by junior captain Evan Gaudette of Nashua and includes Derry freshman Sam Webber from Pinkerton Academy and freshman Shawn Miller from Timberlane.

Manchester Invitational

One of the top races in New England takes place Saturday with the Manchester Invitational at Derryfield Park. This is always a good measure of how strong the Pinkerton boys will be later in the season and it should be a good indicator for the Pinkerton girls and the Londonderry boys as well.

The girls elite race starts at 12:30 p.m. followed by the boys elite race. The large school girls race is set for 1:30 followed by the large school boys.