Country Country: Inside a Championship Team

Front-runner Kyle Anderson ’15 hadn’t run for three weeks. An injured ankle kept him out, but as he toed the starting line last Wednesday, he dug down deep and kept pace with the front pack. This was for the championship, and Anderson, a senior and team captain, wasn’t going to let a little pain get in the way of a second consecutive trophy.

“It was tough. I was nearing the finish and there were three runners on my tail,” Anderson says. “I was at my max, but I knew if they challenged me, I could find more. They did, and it was the last bit of guts that kept me going.”

Running neck-in-neck with Anderson, cross country newcomer AJ Naddaff ’15 had his own challenges to overcome. Two weeks earlier, he had lost any chance of a league all-star spot by taking a wrong turn racing at Chapel Hill—Chancy Hall. Disappointment got the better of him. He finished toward the end of the pack, his confidence deflated.

“I really wanted to redeem myself,” Naddaff said. “I had let myself down, and I wouldn’t let that happen again. I wanted to run hard not just for myself, but also for my team, and I ended-up having the best race of my career. It was bittersweet that it was also my last race—at least as a high school senior.”

Like Anderson and Naddaff, nothing was certain for Nate Friedman ’16. After a tough start to the season, he gradually rebuilt his confidence. But so much of running is a head game, and on any given day, a stellar athlete can face staggering defeat. Last Wednesday, when it counted most, Friedman took solace in his training. He started out hard, and he never looked back. “There is nothing like the feeling of knowing you and the runner beside you is exhausted.”

For her part, eighth-grader Sophia Gomez ran the championship like any other race—strong and fast. Throughout, she never looked over her shoulder, giving runners behind her a reason to test her metal. Racing down the finishing stretch, her smiling face passed several runners as she crossed the finish line. “I was in shock. I didn’t expect it to happen,” she says. “There was a person in front of me I knew I had to beat. I pushed through and made it happen.”

Fellow eighth-grader Liam Conklin felt similarly, especially as he overtook several runners in the last mile. “It felt really nice to finish in the top-10. It’s great training with AJ and Kyle. They’re both seniors. I look up to them because they train hard all of the time.”

Naddaff lead the Gators, coming in at third-place out of over 130 runners representing nine teams, and cementing for himself a top-finisher medal. Anderson, who hadn’t run for close to three weeks due to injury, dug deep and gave everything he had to cross the finish line in fifth-place. Conklin capped-off a hugely impressive season by coming in at ninth-place, followed neck-and-neck by Friedman. Rounding out the top-five Gator finishers, David Labossiere ’15 earned the 18th-spot, with several other Gator runners nipping on his heels.

At last night’s fall sports assembly, Assistant Cross Country Coach David Cutler said the team experienced a rocky start, losing to several teams early on. But by mid-October, “something clicked.” By the time of the championship race, he fully expected a close fight between Gann Academy and The Cambridge School of Weston (CSW).

He was wrong.

The Gators cemented a decisive 30-point victory over Gann, and 35 points over CSW. “We left no doubt in anybody’s mind that this year, we were the best team in the Massachusetts Bay Independent League,” Cutler said.

By Sarah Smith ’17, Enna Spivak ’17, Shani Breiman ’18

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