Girls’ Cross Country Team Crosses New Frontiers

The girls’ cross country team exceeded expectations at City Championships and performed well at the State Championship meet.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Nothing can stand in the way of teammates whose kinship is so strong that they elect to dress up as their own mascot for Halloween.

Members of Stuyvesant’s girls’ cross country team donned giant duck onesies, posed for pictures on the first floor, and then completed the afternoon with their normal practice routine on October 31. The Greyducks were fresh off a Manhattan Borough’s Championship meet victory, having finished the season on the top of Manhattan for the 14th year in a row. While they were sure to enjoy the Halloween festivities and celebrate their continued dominance over Manhattan, the team quickly got back on track to prepare for the City Championship meet in the upcoming weeks.

Heading into the City Championships, the Greyducks faced a degree of uncertainty. Similar to Borough Championships, the team would be without two key runners: sophomore Alicia Yu and junior Julianne Yotov. Yotov, the Greyducks’ second fastest athlete, missed the Borough Championships due to a foot injury, and unfortunately could not recover in time to compete at City’s. As a result, the Greyducks were faced with an uphill battle to reach their goal of qualifying for States, which required a fourth place finish or higher at City’s. In order to fill the void left by Yu and Yotov, the team made the best out of their situation. “We wanted to focus on working as a pack,” senior and co-captain Ester Suleymanov said. “[Yotov’s injury] inspired us to run faster, and for us to even have a chance of making it to States, we really had to work on [running as a group].” Suleymanov herself was injured halfway through the season, but recovered in time to compete at Borough’s and onwards. If Greyducks were to qualify for States, it would be with the combined efforts from every runner on the team.

The girls travelled to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx for the City Championships on Saturday, November 9. Nervous excitement filled the air. All of the hours spent at practices and meets culminated into what could possibly be the last cross country meet of the year. At the starting line, Coach Burke and the runners performed their season-long ritual of downing imaginary confidence pills before the start of the race. Loud cheers came up from the Stuyvesant runners as they downed their last confidence pills and waited for the starting gun. The varsity 5000-meter race was about to begin.

Fast forward 20 minutes later, and freshman Bella Stenhouse was the first Greyduck to cross the finish line. Her blazing-fast time of 19 minutes and 37.99 seconds was a new personal record and landed her in an impressive second place finish. Junior Agatha Edwards came in 24th (21:57.53), followed by junior Jessica Kwok in 31st (22:14.44) and Suleymanov in 32nd (22:15.46). Sophomore Susan Zheng was close behind in 35th with a time of 22:22.65, and freshman Yu Lin Zhen placed 38th with a time of 22:29.96. Senior and co-captain Liza Reizis finished in 64th (23:05.60), rounding out the varsity team’s strongest performance of the season. Six of the seven Greyducks shattered their previous best times. Even with star runner Yotov out with an injury, the Greyducks felt confident in their collective performance. Now, all they could do was wait for the results to be announced.

“Fourth place goes to...Stuyvesant High School!” the announcer shouted. Cheers of joy sprung up from the team, as they achieved what they wanted most coming into the meet. The Greyducks had defied all odds and claimed the last qualifying spot for States. “Milesplit, the running website, predicted Stuyvesant to only get sixth or seventh at City’s, but we ended up placing fourth,” Suleymanov said with a proud smile. The team’s success is a testament to the runners’ high spirits and dedication. Despite facing multiple setbacks, the Greyducks upheld the standard of winning Borough Championships and exceeded expectations by placing fourth in the city. Suleymanov believes this season was different compared to last season because of a noticeable increase in effort. “We did a lot of summer training, and many of us went to running summer camp. We stuck to our schedule and stayed together,” Suleymanov said.

This sentiment is reflected in the team’s unparalleled work ethic. According to Zheng, the team has had their eye on qualifying for States from the start. “We were really focused on each meet, and the season was filled with amazing [personal records] and improvement across the whole team leading up to City’s,” she said. Zheng is one of the many underclassmen who stepped up throughout the season. Reizis expressed great pride in her team, especially the younger runners. “Our freshmen this year have shown so much improvement with two freshmen in varsity and others leading the JV team's top pack,” she said. Stenhouse, the fastest freshman in the city, won first place at the Soph-Frosh City Championship on November 2 and headlined the team at the Varsity City Championships a week later.

The Greyducks went into States knowing they wouldn’t place as high as they’ve done in previous meets. “Our goal is to do better than we did at City’s,” Suleymanov said. “[We aim to] break our record on the course.” While the team looked to once again break their personal records, expectations were lowered because of the uncertainty that comes with running on unfamiliar roads. “This is only our second time running this season at Bowdoin Park, so we just want to focus on getting out fast and sticking together,” Suleymanov said. The 25th seeded Greyducks performed better than expected at the State Championship meet, placing 23rd out of 27 teams on Saturday, November 23.

With the end of the State Championship meet, the cross country season will soon come to a close. The only competition left for some team members is the voluntary Foot Locker Northeast Regional at Van Cortlandt Park, which will be in good spirits as the team will be back on familiar ground. Looking forward to next year’s cross country season, the team is excited to see the continued growth of their current freshmen, including Stenhouse, Zheng, and Anna Kathawala. Together, they formed part of the freshman team that won first place overall at the Soph-Frosh City Championship, thanks to their individual placements of first, fourth, and 27th, respectfully. The team has a bright future thanks to its robust and young core, mostly composed of freshmen who made up half of this year’s team.

As a whole, the past few months have been one of the strongest girls’ cross country seasons in recent history. “Liza and I are so amazed by how everyone has done,” Suleymanov said. “This has been one of our best cross country seasons even with one of our top runners injured because we still pushed ourselves to the limit.” The team in the duck onesies on Halloween has soared above expectations.