PCXC: Girls Take Home the Gold, Boys Shatter School Record

PCXC: Girls Take Home the Gold, Boys Shatter School Record

The boys' and girls' cross-country teams pose with their awards and glory at the Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee on November 5. (via Coach Paul Baur)
This Saturday, November 5, 2016, Pine Crest’s boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams made school history at the FHSAA State Meet in Tallahassee. Just as the Cubs beat their goat curse earlier this week, the girls’ team broke its four-year streak of second place at states, taking the gold from Jacksonville’s Bolles. Winning with a total score of 29 points, the girls won their 2A class with a team average of 18:41. The boys’ team powered through a competitive race as well, placing fourth with a total score of 182 points. They broke Pine Crest’s record with a team average of 16:50, setting themselves as the fastest boys cross-country team to run for PC.
The girls ran the first race of the morning at 8:00 am, right on time to watch the sun rise at the starting line. (via Sarah Walker, senior)
This year the 2A races were held early in the morning; the girls ran in the first race at 8:00 am, and the guys shortly followed in the third race. With a cool climate and a dry course, the runners succeeded as a team and as individuals, earning many personal records and top-ten finishes. For the girls, freshman Tsion Yared finished as second in the race, followed by eighth grader and sister, Mahdere Yared, in seventh, and then freshman Maya Beleznay right behind Yared in eighth. While these three girls took the podium twice for both their individual and team accomplishments, the other girls also ran strong races, many with PRs. The other runners include senior Simone Vreeland, freshman Emily Faulhaber, freshman Amanda Schwartz, and senior Samantha Meade. Freshman Libby Torregrosa and seniors Sarah Walker and Jamie Zipper also made up the girls’ pack as alternates throughout the post-season. Both Yareds were not able to compete in States last year due to injuries, but they were able to come back for this season, both healthy and stronger than ever. This is Tsion’s third cross-country top-ten finish, placing sixth in 2013 and winning the race in 2014. Tsion shares her thoughts about this year’s season and State Meet. “Coming back this year, healthy, with an even stronger team was definitely amazing. I wouldn’t be able to compete this year without support of the entire team. Being a part of a state champion team was the icing on the cake,” Tsion said. Here is a post-race interview that Tsion held with FL Runners reporter Todd Grasely. Even though the girls’ team is filled with young talent, they definitely have the experience. Many of the freshmen have been running on the high school team throughout middle school, so they had all had a taste of States before. However, this was the first time that freshman Maya Beleznay ran States representing Pine Crest. Maya recounts her season and States experience wearing green and white. “I started running with this team in June and even then I realized what a special team this is. Every single person is so kind, humble, and hard-working, and I couldn't have asked for a better season this year,” Maya said. "I am so honored to be a part of a team that made Pine Crest history this weekend." Leading up to States, the PC girls were seeded to win based on season bests and wins at previous meets, such as Estero DDD Invitational, King of the Hill Invitational, and Pine Crest Invitational. Although the girls were a favorite going into the race, nothing was set in stone; the head of the cross-country program, Coach Paul Baur, shares his thoughts going into the weekend. “We were the favorites because of how well we did during the season, how we trained, how we ran in races, so we approached this meet in the same way; not wanting to really change anything up,” Coach Baur said.
The girls team takes the podium for the fifth year in a row, but this time as state champions. (via Michael Meade)
The boys also had a successful season leading up to States, winning the Spanish River Invitational and Pine Crest Invitational and taking second at Estero DDD Invitational and King of the Hill Invitational. This past weekend the boys set a Pine Crest record with an average time of 16:50. Senior Michael Kennedy finished as 27th, leading the predominately upperclassmen team to fourth place. Following Kennedy were seniors Michael Cabral, Matt Stein, Ron Knezevich, Alec Gugel, and sophomores Adrian Abedon and Gaby Ortega.
(From left to right: senior Ron Knezevich, senior Alec Gugel, sophomore Adrian Abedon) Three Pine Crest boys stick as a pack as they start their second lap of the course. (via Coach Paul Baur)
Although the boys’ team is made up of a majority of seniors, the team has a bright future for next season with its alternates, current JV team, and rising middle schoolers. The alternates included junior Matt Jordan, sophomore Jabari Owens, and senior Ben Brody. Senior Alec Gugel shares his thoughts on the program’s future without the seniors. “It’s going to be a challenge next year considering the fact that our top five runners are graduating, but the current underclassmen are extremely talented and dedicated, so I think they will fare well despite the loss,” Alec said. Both teams’ hard work paid off starting with summer training, and many students voluntarily attended a week-long Brevard Distance Runners Camp in North Carolina at Brevard College in July. Taking home the gold and setting new personal records week after week just set the girls up to have a successful race up in Tallahassee like it was any other race in the season. Toward the end of the season, the coaches reworked the training from years past by incorporating hard workouts throughout the post-season taper. “We changed up our training, so that we would get faster throughout. That was very intentional,” Coach Baur said. In addition to Coach Baur, there were a group of other coaches who played an integral part in the teams’ success throughout the season: Terri Arkin, Brittany Carey, Laura Carafiello, Jim Brown, and Bavon Sylvain. On Saturday, the two teams were all about business, but the day before the big race was filled with team bonding and traditions. The girls, known as the Kitties, sport black cat ears and green Mardi Gras beads during their Friday afternoon practice on the course. Senior and University of Miami commit Simone Vreeland shares the purpose of the annual attire. “It became a tradition, but also it just contributes to the fun experience at States,” senior Simone Vreeland said.
The girls' team rocks out in all black, green beads, and cat ears, marking the fifth year of this annual tradition. (via Coach Paul Baur)
The boys’ team didn’t dress up in goofy attire, but they did sport their 2016 t-shirts with their team name, Big Dogs, given to them in 2012 by Coach Karl Hop. “[The name] wiles us up before the race,” senior Ron Knezevich said, laughing to fellow senior Matt Stein. “It really makes us feel superior,” Stein responds, jokingly.
The Big Dogs were all smiles after their race, finishing in 4th place in the 2A division. (via Coach Paul Baur)
Even though this was the last time all of the seniors would run together, the runners can end their high school running careers knowing that they made Pine Crest history in their final race. Their legacy will be left for future runners to come and for Pine Crest as a whole to look back on. Alec reflects on his time spent on the team and what running means to him. “There was definitely an extra bit of fire in me at the end knowing that if I didn’t pass the people I needed to pass, I would never have another chance to do,” Alec said. “It seems like it’s the end of something, but to me it really isn’t because I don’t plan on stopping running.”
The 10 seniors who attended this season's State Meet have been running with each other throughout all of high school. (via Michael Meade)
There was an astounding amount of seniors in the program this year. The 16 seniors have been together throughout all of high school, and many joined the team starting in middle school. Senior Michael Kennedy joined in sixth grade and shares the impact the program has had on him. “Over the past seven years, cross-country has been the most exhausting, the most painful, and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Michael said. “This sport has given me more than I ever could have asked for.” As a four-year member of the cross-country team, I want to briefly reflect on my time spent in this unique program. I joined freshman year and would have never imagined the impact that this team would have on me. Running is a sport that requires both physical and mental strength. Harnessing this strength requires determination and heart, and it cannot be done alone. By watching my teammates give their all, no matter the workout or race, I have learned and grown as an athlete and a friend. Cross-country may appear to be an individual sport, but it is truly a team effort. Even in the middle of a grueling workout, everyone still manages to muster a “good job” or a “keep it up” to one another, lap after lap, mile after mile no matter how out-of-breath they are. This incredible support is what has kept me coming back to each practice, meet, and season every year – thank you to the coaches and runners that have made this program what it is. To my Kitties, I wouldn’t have wanted to end my last race any other way. I can’t wait to see what you all accomplish in the future. To my fellow senior runners, this is the end of our era, but not our legacy… yeah, corny, I know. Congratulations to the Boys’ and Girls’ Cross-Country teams. We did it.