Pine Crest freshman Tsion Yared left a lasting impression in her national debut.
Yared was the first Florida finisher and seventh freshman among a field of 200 at the 13th Nike NXN Cross Country Nationals Saturday at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Ore.
Yared, representing the Southeast U.S., finished 39th in 18:34.3.
The nation’s top girls distance runners were challenged by the hilly course that featured inclines, mud and standing puddles on a grassy terrain. After a few days of rain, the skies cleared but the weather remained in the low 40s.
“It was exciting,” Yared said. “The course was really muddy. There were ups and downs but that what makes the ultimate cross country course for nationals. It was exciting to put myself up for a challenge. It made the finish so exciting, especially finishing a tough course like that.”
Yared made no predictions before the race since she knew how tough the race would be.
“I really wanted to finish in the Top 40 or 50 and I got 39th so that was really exciting,” she said. “I didn’t really want to put a time out there because I knew the course would be rough and I didn’t want to make myself nervous. One of the Nike people was saying that the times were 30 seconds slower than last year’s.
“I am really happy with my time overall. The fact I got to race there was such an incredible experience.”
From the moment Yared arrived, she felt like a rock star.
“I felt spoiled by Nike,” she said. “They literally gave us everything you could ever imagine– uniforms, sleeves, spikes, training shoes, warm-up jacket, warm-up pants–basically everything.”
“I don’t know how to explain it. They made you feel important. They announced our names, put our picture up and played good music. It was like a TV show.”
The national meet ended Yared’s outstanding cross country season a year after being sidelined with a stress fracture and relegated to a spectator cheering for her teammates. This year she helped her team to a state title for the first time in school history with an individual runner-up finish and broke 18 minutes for the first time.
“She is the epitome of perseverance and patience all the while staying humble and unselfish,” said Pine Crest coach Paul Baur. “I am thankful to have the opportunity to coach her.”
Yared looked at her national debut as a reward for all the hard work she put in not only training but rehabbing to get healthy again and return to full strength before she set foot on a course or track.
“This was the reward, the icing on the cake,” Yared said. “The fact I was able to even just go to Oregon was a nice surprise. It was amazing. I wasn’t expecting to get there as a freshman. Once I got there, I was so grateful for the entire season, being completely healthy and making it to nationals.”
The only thing missing was her teammates.
“I definitely want to bring my team next year,” Yared said. “It was such an amazing experience. They deserve to expeience that with all the hard work they put in.”
Yared said she is not only motivated for next season but is looking forward to the upcoming track season that begins in February. She plans to take two weeks off over the holidays before “easing into track season.
“I reached a couple feats this year,” Yared said. “I broke 18 for the first time and I qualified for NXN. It helps motivate me and shows me what I am capable of doing. I am going to keep pushing and working hard, it does pay off.
“I am really excited for track season; I didn’t get to run the full season last year. I ran a two-miler in the middle of cross country season and I broke 11 without any track training. That was really motivating for me.”
In the girls’ NXN race, senior Brie Oakley of Southwest won the individual title in 17:10.1. She took up running a year ago after quitting soccer. Early in the race, she pulled away for a huge lead and despite slipping late in the race won by 28 seconds. It was called one of the most dominating performances in meet history.
“Running was one of the best choices I have made in my life,” Oakley said. “I thought the race would be a lot closer. I wanted to stay back but I decided on the hill to shoot ahead. Obviously, I am happy but there’s a lot more to come.”
Fayetteville-Manlius won the team title for the tenth year in a row with 41 points. Davis, Calif. was runner-up with 181 points.
Fifty-five individual state champions competed in the boys and girls races.
Senior Casey Clinger of American Fork won the boys’ race in 15:28.40. Only ten seconds separated the top five finishers. Bozeman won the team title with 105 and American Fork was runner-up with 141 points.
Mater Academy freshman runner Valerie Lastra of Miami Elite Track Club won the 13-14 age group title at the AAU Cross Country National Championships Saturday at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee. Lastra topped a field of 104 athletes in 13:30.98 for the 4,000-meter race.