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The Paw Print

Cross country races to greatness

Cross country races to greatness

The Poly cross country team is laced up and ready to go as the empty gunshot marks the beginning stages of this new season. At the season’s first meet, the Poly Panthers enjoyed a trip up to Santa Barbara, where they participated in the UCSB Gaucho Invitational. The aroma of the ocean’s salt air greeted them upon arrival, and perhaps the coastal backdrop invigorated the Panthers for a morning of racing, for the Poly athletes left an indelible mark.

An impressive haul of five medals glittered in the hands of sophomore Mariana Gomez, junior Catie Sabbag and junior Stella Keatley in the girls’ 3.00 miles; freshman Harper Johnson in the boys’ 1.43 miles and freshman Anya Matz in the girls’ 1.43 miles.

Fast forward a week to the evening of Sept. 9th. The Poly cross country team participated in the Rosemead Invitational. This early preseason meet, with more than 2,100 runners, is cross country’s equivalent of Friday Night Lights. At this meet under the stars, the Panthers shone brightly. Though the day began with temperatures soaring, as night set in and the air cooled, the Panthers cranked out scorching hot times.

The varsity girls squad recorded their best collective time at Rosemead (105:24) since 2019 and claimed their sixth fastest finish in the school’s history.

A staggering 11 out of 12 returning participants set personal bests on the course at Rosemead High School. Five Poly student-athletes entered the Poly record book for all-time school race performances. Standouts included Sabbag (19:49) and Keatley (20:00), who finished in the top 5% and 7% out of 833 female runners.

This wave of early-season success is not an accident but a manifestation of months of dedicated training. “Our girls team really kind of captures this dedication. Last year, we faced struggles, injuries and illnesses, but this group has developed a laser focus. The boys are carrying over from the last part of last year the belief that the benefits of their work will pay off in huge ways,” said head coach Richard Caragher. As the team heads into the season, they are driven by the desire to win and the mentality to improve and push themselves.

Adding to the Panthers’ narrative of hard work and progress, the team’s numerous freshmen runners have already made a big impression. Junior Nathan Menelik praised the newcomers, stating, “They are dedicated and came to the practices over the summer, worked hard, and now it is paying off in the races.”

Caragher agreed, adding, “It’s a jump from middle school. It’s a different way of doing sports, but here, this is an opportunity that they are embracing, and already, you can see huge improvements in their growth as runners.”

The team poised for a great season of running. During the first Prep League meet on Tuesday, Sept. 19th, at Long Beach’s El Dorado Park, Poly’s varsity boys team placed fourth, with 3 runners in the top 15. The varsity girls team raced to a second-place finish, with three standout runners placing in the top six — Gomez (20.20), Sabbag (20:23) and Keatley (20:25).

Senior Nathaniel Karafilis-Spensley says that his competitive mentality is absolutely stellar, and he stands ready to lead the pack as the Poly cross country team battles Prep League competition.

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Warren Peng, Student Contributor
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