Intrigue and excitement abound at Cross Country’s second meet of the season

Alex Kelly, Business Manager

Navigate Left
Navigate Right
  • Freshman Stella Newman and Senior Minnoli Raghavan get to the top of cardiac hill after Newman’s long break at the two-mile mark.

  • Senior Romer Rosales-Hasek and sophomore Lucas Keeley, who participated in the boys’ varsity race, got off to a quick start on the Crystal Springs course.

  • Senior Romer Rosales-Hasek fights through the pain on the final sprint to the finish line.

  • Juniors Ava Gonzalez and Lauren Gonzalez arrive at the top of cardiac hill together.

12 minutes into the girls’ varsity cross country race at the second Peninsula Athletic League meet, a crowd had gathered at the top of Hallmark Park’s ‘cardiac hill’ to watch the runners make their way through the final part of the challenging course. In the distance, the two-mile flag was waving in the wind, and spectators could see the colorful order of the runners. In front was a runner with a black top and red shorts sporting “Burlingame,” — the Panthers’ best kept secret, freshman Stella Newman. 

At first there was cheering, but the crowd members started whispering to each other as a highly unusual sight unfolded before their eyes: Newman, in her first ever varsity race, had stopped at the two-mile mark.

“There were two course workers, and they were asking me questions about the running strategy,” Newman said of her time at the two-mile flag. “They asked me why I was stopping and when I would start.”

But Newman didn’t stop for a rest break — this was all part of a race strategy devised by coach Steve O’Brien prior to the meet. O’Brien told Newman to run an above-average race pace for the first two miles, ideally reaching the two-mile marker at around 12 minutes, and then to stop and wait for the next Burlingame teammate to run the last mile with. 

On Wednesday, that teammate was senior Minnoli Raghavan. As Newman and Raghavan ran to the top of cardiac hill, O’Brien told them to only run the last 800 meters of the course hard, and to stay in control throughout the final mile of the race.

“We’ve used this, we’ve had four teams get to states and like 25 individuals, so we’ve used this package with success over the last 25 years,” O’Brien said.

This year, in particular, O’Brien had a clear justification for the strategy: The race had no bearing on the team’s chances of qualifying for the Central Coast Section (CCS) and state championship races. There was no point in being competitive in the race if it was only relevant for league standings.

As O’Brien saw it, the Crystal Springs course is brutal: Why risk the long-term health of the team in a race that isn’t important for the postseason?

“It’s just being patient and using the next few races to get ready for November 12,” O’Brien said. “It’s hard to peak on the last race of the year, and the girls are kind of new to the process, but I think they’re buying into it.”

Despite their self-imposed rest period, the girls’ varsity team still had a strong showing, finishing in fourth place. The team’s placement will likely improve when they return to Crystal Springs for the Peninsula Athletic League (PAL) finals, but nothing is sure until the results come in. 

On the boys’ side, the varsity team ran a solid race to finish ninth in the overall standings. Notably, senior Jackson Spenner and senior Romer Rosales-Hasek both finished in the top 20. 

“I think overall, the team ran a tough course in a very good time, and we had a couple folks step up and do some things different,” coach Chris Coleman said.

The return of Rosales-Hasek to the varsity division proved crucial to the team’s success. At the start of the season, Rosales-Hasek battled a right leg muscle strain and did not compete in varsity at the first league meet on Sept. 16. 

“I performed much better than I expected,” Rosales-Hasek said. “I feel like every runner has that feeling in the back of their mind after the race that they could have run that little bit faster, but I feel like I’m very satisfied.”

Rosales-Hasek  credited his strong comeback to Spenner. Because Rosales-Hasek often starts slowly to save stamina, before accelerating in the late stages of a race, Spenners’s pace forced him to maintain speed from the start. Spenner finished just behind Rosales-Hasek in 17th, and the pair ran within 10 seconds of each other for most of the race. 

“I think I would not have gotten as fast of a time or as good of a placement if not for [Spenner],” Rosales-Hasek said.

Both Spenner and Rosales-Hasek will be ready to take on the Crystal Springs course again when the team returns  for PAL finals on Nov. 5. 

After all, according to O’Brien, that’s when the race finishes will really start to matter.