By Christopher Hunt
PORTLAND, Ore. – Normally we see a stoic Fayetteville-Manilus squad unfazed by success, already on to the next challenge. Not this time.
This time they made room for tears and hugs. And more tears.
It’s not that none of the other races mattered. It’s that each race was another step climbed; another step toward its third-straight national championship. It was another step toward an ever-evolving stage of excellence.
“This is the sweetest one,” Fayetteville-Manilus (Manilus XC Club) coach Bill Aris told the team with what little voice he held on to after his girls scored just 66 points to win the Nike Cross Nationals for the third consecutive time at Portland Meadows Racetrack in Portland, Ore. A team from New York has won the girls national title every year of NXN's five-year existence.
It was sweet because some actually viewed them as underdogs with the success that Saugas (Santa Clarita XC) enjoyed this season. It was because FM endured losing freshman Katie Sischo to a broken leg earlier this season. Then the night before the race Molly Malone, normally the team’s #3 runner, spent most of the night throwing up. She didn’t tell her coaches until not long before race time.
“I didn’t want them to worry about me,” Malone said. “I was just telling myself I want to do this for the team because we’ve all worked so hard for this and I didn’t want to let them down.”
Malone was noticeably weak after the race and said she couldn’t even see straight but her courageous performance helped Fayetteville-Manilus dominate in a way that proved them to be among the greatest scholastic cross country teams in U.S. history.
“That’s the stuff that just makes us stronger,” said junior Hannah Luber, who finished 21st overall in 18:14.8.
Chelsey Sveinsson of Texas’s Addison XC Club (Green Hill) won the overall title in a course record 17:26.9. Sophomore Courtney Chapman led FM in seventh place in 17:53.0. Meaghan Anklin finished 19th in 18:13.7 followed by Luber, MacKenzie Carter in 24th in 18:17.6 and then Malone in 63rd in 18:50.5. Santa Clarita XC finished second with 135 points and Wilmington XC Club (Tatnall, Del.) third with 182.
The emotion didn’t stop with the girls. Coaches Bill and John Aris, father and son, shared a tearful embrace away from the finish line and fanfare after they told their team how truly great they were. Luber wrote words Bill Aris told her the night before in black ink on the inside of her left forearm.
“I’m waiting for the day that you realize your true potential,” it read.
Aris said the plan was simple: Run hard. Stay strong. Think big.
And when it was over and the tears were wiped away and first round of congratulatory hugs were passed about, John Aris screamed “Let’s finish the job,” and the girls jogged over to an open area, kicked off their spikes and started doing strides barefoot on the grass. Just like they did after every other race this season.
Aris said there was no difference between success and failure. The routine remains the same. Then after a brief talk with the team, that includes two seniors, he looked at his watch.
“The ’09 cross country season just started,” he said.
Reach Christopher Hunt at email@example.com.