By LAUREN READ
Rarely has 19th place felt so good.
The Champlain Valley Union girls cross-country team ran to their best ever finish – 19th place – at the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore., on Saturday.
“I have been there with two other teams and three individuals, this was beyond anything we have ever had in the past,” said CVU coach Scott Bliss. “From Thursday to Sunday was such an amazing experience, I had said to them before the race that (the result) just didn’t matter to me.”
Qualifying for the prestigious national meet came with a host of perks. Nike footed the bill for the team’s travel and lodging costs, Bliss said.
But that was just the beginning. The high school athletes got to meet the pros – the Redhawk girls had dinner with Courtney Frerichs, the American record-holder in the steeplechase. They met many of the other top runners and Nike made sure participants were suited up in full gear.
“I have never experienced something as amazing and positive as what they got to experience,” Bliss said. “The thing that people don’t understand is that this is sensory overload. There is so much going on…You never know what they are going to react like.”
In that whirlwind, the CVU runners might have been forgiven if they had put the final race on the backburner.
“The race was just there to do the best we can, to represent CVU and Vermont well. I believe that they did that.”
Instead, like they have done all season, CVU stayed focused and determined to the end of their 5k race.
Two miles into their race, the Redhawks were in 21st place. But a strong push in the final mile – something this group has done all year – bumped them up to19th for the program’s best finish at the Nike Cross Nationals.
“Four of our top five ran their fastest times ever,” Bliss said. “They key for us to get to 19th was that we ran the last mile the way we have run the last mile all season. When people are fading, we are moving forward.”
Ella Whitman (18:31.5) was the first CVU harrier to cross the finish line, coming in at 79th place. Alice Larson followed in 84th place (18:34.4). Chloe Silverman (158th, 19:30.3), Jasmine Nails (167th, 19:39.2) and Cate Noel (170th, 19:42.7) rounded out the top five.
Sadie Holmes (177th, 19:56.2) and Alicia Veronneau (185th, 20:14) finished it up for the Redhawks.
“I was just proud that they continued to do what they have done all season,” Bliss said. “I am proud to have been able to go on the ride.”
Bliss also credited the high level of competition as motivation for the team’s excitement at their nationals success. The longtime coach pointed out that 118 of the 202 runners finished in under 19 minutes. Only three Vermont runners finished in under 19 minutes all season.
“This team has been really on point the entire year,” Bliss said. “We just try to do our best, you can’t do anything better than that.”
And this team’s best, at least in their coach’s eyes, is the best CVU cross-country team ever.