Ok Hawks fans, it’s the blog post you’ve all been waiting for… the USATF Junior Olympic Cross Country Nationals recap!
First, I have to point out that this is the largest, most competitive team we’ve ever taken to Nationals, with 17 athletes qualifying and 15 traveling to Louisville for the meet. I couldn’t be prouder of all of our Hawks, and I think our traveling contingent represented us well!
It was a cool, blustery morning when we arrived at the course Saturday morning, the clouds hung low and heavy with the expected rain. The bare trees blew as the wind swirled, and the wet leaves rustled on the ground as we warmed up. The race coordinator announced that this was the largest Nationals meet in history, with the races ranging from 221 runners in the 7-8 girls race to 448 competitors in the 13-14 boys race. But nothing was keeping the Hawks’ spirits down on this day.
First up was Mia, and it felt early for us as we warmed up and did drills. Despite the time change, the foreboding weather, and the excellent field of talent, Mia fought her nerves and ran an amazing race. While it wasn’t her fastest performance of the year, she competed well and now claims the highest Nationals finish ever by a female Delta Hawk at 38th place!
The rain held off until a few minutes before the 9-10 girls race, with Josie staying safe in the official start tent to wait out the sudden downpour. Just as the rain started to fall, the official meet announcer played “Kentucky Rain” by Elvis Presley – one of many perfect songs to play throughout the morning. Luckily, the deluge passed as quickly as it came and Josie’s race was able to start only a few minutes later than scheduled. Unfortunately, the cold and wet hampered her chances and Josie wasn’t able to notch a season-best effort, but her pace was only one second slower than her Regional race pace despite the crowd of runners.
The Hawks only fielded a full team in the 9-10 boys division, but they did a great job representing our community. The Hawks claimed 19th place out of 32 teams, which was the best finish by a Hawk team in any Nationals other than in 2021 (which technically didn’t require qualifying and so was a unique competition).
Pier led the way for the team and earns an “Honorable Mention” award as he heartbreakingly finished less than 2 seconds and just 3 spots out of All-American at 28th place overall. This is the best performance by a Hawk not named Elias, and Pier demonstrated incredible fight all the way through the race. David was a strong, quiet leader for the boys’ team and ran like an experienced Nationals competitor. He was able to significantly improve his place at Nationals from last year, going from 202nd to almost breaking the top 100 with a 103rd finish this year. Henry had a breakthrough performance, finishing 3rd for the team and improving on his impressive effort at the Regional meet. He definitely gave everything he had, rising to the challenge of a National championship race. Jack and Evan rounded out the scoring runners and used teamwork to push each other throughout the race, battling each other and other competitors all the way to the finish.
Our only 11-12 age group runner, Sonia demonstrated incredible leadership and focus, was a great example for the other kids, and ran her best race against an incredibly talented field. On the course walkthrough on Friday Sonia was a source of confidence and strategy for all the other runners - it was inspirational to watch her lead with maturity and experience. Her race was challenging, one of the largest fields of the day, and she found herself struggling to move up as she pushed through the wet course, but Super Sonia lived up to her name, and proved that she is one of the fiercest runners on the team.
While some Hawks finished higher than her this weekend, the MVP award goes to Natalie for an outstanding and courageous performance. She executed our plan perfectly, getting out super fast (she was in the top 30 coming off the starting straight stretch), beating several girls who finished ahead of her at Regionals, and significantly improving her place at Nationals (she finished 132nd this year compared to 2021 when she finished 247th). She is also a very young runner in the 13-14 age group as she turned 13 about a week ago. She went out strong, found herself in an oxygen deficit, and continued to fight all the way to the finish – Natalie epitomized the goal for the Delta Hawks!
Elias also had a great race, finishing 14th overall and claiming the team’s only All-American honors. The competition in the 13-14 boys race was fierce, as several of the kids Elias ran against were high school freshmen and had competed in their state championship meets. Even though he was nervous, he knew his game plan and was ready to stick to it. Through the first half of the race Elias was right at the head of the lead pack chasing the top two breakaway runners. He fought every step of the way and ended up notching a huge PR for the 4k finishing in 12:31.
Tyler, Callan, Cameron, Jai, and Max performed well at their first National competition – none of them succumbing to the pressure of such a large field of runners. Courage doesn’t only mean being brave enough to run fast, it also means having the strength to go out there and compete the best we can even if we may not have the capacity of a lot of the other competitors. It’s being there for your team when they need you and doing your best on any given day. These runners all demonstrated their fearlessness on Saturday!
Winning the “Peak at the Right Time Award”, Natalie, Elias, Henry, and Tyler all ran a faster pace at Nationals than they did at the Association or Regional Qualifiers. We plan out our training schedule to run our best at the end of the season, and it’s always great to see it work out – way to go!
Finally, I want to thank Galen and all the coaching team who help make each season happen, and especially the PARENTS who get all the Hawks to practice and to do their runs at home and who embody the Hawk community. The parents who traveled to Kentucky were so helpful and positive and supportive of me and the kids and it’s because of their attitudes and support that Nationals was able to go so well for everyone. Here’s to another amazing cross country season (and to many more)!
Now begins the off-season training for track, let’s keep it rolling!
Delta Hawks Coaches