The 2014 SPC Cross country races in both girls and boys divisions were some of the most competitive in recent history. In the girls division St. John’s was the front-runner looking for their third championship in a row. Kinkaid, the 2014 SPC South Zone runner up, was also in the race day chatter along with Episcopal. On the boys side John Cooper, St. John’s, and St. Mark’s were all in the hunt. Cooper’s Pedro Nasta was a retuning three-time SPC champion, St. Mark’s was last years’ champion, and St. John’s was runner-up in 2012 and 2013. One hour before race time with temperatures in the 50’s, teams were huddled in blankets, grouped in tents, and starting to mesh together with dynamic warm ups. Packs of runners in colored warm ups crisscrossed in sequence along the lower landscape of the race course. Beyond the base camp loomed the two most significant challengers of the race- “mile 1 hill” and “mile 2 hill.”
While each team would battle each other for the title, every runner was pitted against one of the toughest courses in the conference. At the end of the first and second miles were inclines which seemed like running up mountains to most of the field. 20 mph gusts of wind added to the elements. The change in terrain changed “synchronizing Saturday,” into “separation Saturday,” in a matter of meters.
“Personally I did really well but it is a tough course,” said second place finisher Margaret Trautner ’16. “The two hills are bigger than anything we can find in Houston.”
“It was harder than I expected,” said third place finisher Lillian Chen ’16.
Even with Peyton Brown ’17 taking first place overall, St. John’s Girls’ (76 pts.) finished runner-up, just three points behind Kinkaid (73 pts.) and ahead of Episcopal (94 pts.) Rounding out the scorers were fourth place Olivia Havel '16 and fifth place Julia Moody '16.
“Our top three runners had a fantastic day,” said Head Girls’ Cross Country Coach Rachel Fabre. Margaret finished 8th and posted a personal best which was phenomenal considering the terrain. All three made all-conference today.”
For the Mavericks Jordan Kramer ’18 finished 6th, Noel Higgason ’16 7th, Molly Isaac ’18 8th, Zoe Margolis ’15 9th, and Maya Bhandari ’16 10th.
The terrain was also a factor in the boys’ race which started minutes after the girls’ finish.
“There were monstrous hills,” said Joe Farguna ’16, who finished in 6th place overall and second for St. John’s. “You got to be strong and accelerate over them and recover on the down hill side.”
Trailing Cooper’s Nasta and St. Mark’s top three runners midway through the boys’ race, Faraguna and Akshay Jaggi ’15 led the charge for St. John’s on the back stretch. Jaggi came down the last hill and transitioned to second place on the final mile to give chase to Nasta.
“They ran a smart race by knowing who was out there,” said assistant coach Cullan Hemenway. “One by one, other than the leader, Akshay reeled those guys in.”
The final three scoring runners for St. John’s were Sam Ho ’18 12th, Alex Cherches ’15 -16th, and Jayan Hansen ’17 20th. All of the five top finishers received all conference medals. The next five finishers for the Mavericks were Jake Schick ’17- 6th , Pearse Higgason ’18- 7th, Connor Eichenwald ’15- 8th, Julian Henry ’15- 9th, and Ian Thakur ’18-10th.
“It was our first SPC race and we were honored to be here,” said Higgason and Thakur. “We are better prepared for next year.”
After the boys race was over there was confusion in the chip scoring system when at least two runners’ shoe tags were not recorded in the finish chute. With unofficial scoring sheets tallying St. John’s as the winner, Head Coach Richie Mercado ’79, was keeping a tight lip on a possible first boys’ championship in 14 years.
“The malfunctions of the scoring did not effect our results in the standings,” said Mercado. “All the boys ran well.”
Moments later the official scores were in and St. John’s finished first with 56 points followed by John Cooper School with 58 points and St. Mark’s with 95.
The two point difference could have been attributed to the results of all five top Maverick finishers—Akshay moving to up to second place, Joe at 6th, Sam at 12th, Alex at 16th, and Jayan at 20th.
“Hansen, St. John’s 5th place runner beat Cooper’s 5th place runner by six seconds,” said Hemenway. “Every runner matters.”
“There are no words to describe this feeling,” said Alex Cherches ’15. “We wanted to get the patch up on the banner in the gym and let everyone know our story of being runner up these past two years. Now it’s our time.”
“It’s all surreal,” said Jaggi. “It was our last season as seniors and we left it all on the course.”
Afterwards, both Maverick teams took photos together with their trophies held high. They were two of the four teams to take home hardware from a course that did not give much back to a combined field of 32 teams. Whether it was their first SPC race for St. John’s or their last, these Mavericks know in their hearts they had what it took to deal with mountains, wind, malfunctioned chip tags, and themselves.
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Sam Chambers- Athletic News