Cross Country Races Back

Paloma Taormina, Staff Writer

After returning from an uncertain year of virtual racing due to the coronavirus crisis, the John Jay Cross Country team was back this fall and more powerful than ever. Coach Hines noted that the team “has come back strong…We’ve lost a lot of people, including former Coach Nagano, but we’ve gained many new Millennium runners. And we also have runners across the different John Jay schools, so this year has been pretty different.” 

When the season opened in September, the Jaguars competed in weekly low-stakes meets held in Prospect Park against other NYC public schools including Bard, Brooklyn Tech and Midwood. As late summer turned to fall, the runners raced along trails and over the bunny hills of the park– these casual races served as practice for new runners to ease into the nerve-racking environment of competitive racing and for the experienced runners to get back into practice for bigger meets. 

On September 25th, the larger-scale races began. Each Saturday, the Jaguars would wake up before sunrise to schlep–-by car, train, and foot–to the Bronx to race at Van Cortlandt Park. With a new tent, name, mascot, and a determined mindset, the team was ready to make a season’s worth of highlights. 

Over the course of the eight weeks of competition, the John Jay Girls placed 5th in the city and the boys placed 6th overall. As a team, the Jaguars placed second in the Borough, right behind Brooklyn Tech. Our girls varsity team placed first at the very first meet of the cross country season in which many other NYC schools competed, including Tech, a school that usually dominates the other teams in the city due to the sheer size of their roster. 

In one of the biggest accomplishments for the team last season, junior runner Nate Boutin was the overall winner at the NYC City Championship meet. “Nate winning the overall boys NYC city championship was definitely a highlight; the team has never had an individual city champion before,” says Hines. The coach says while Nate is without a doubt talented, he’s worked hard to train and get where he is today. “Nate is a fierce competitor…and really knows how to push himself, even to the point of collapse, at the end of a race.” 

Senior runner Simone Isip placed tenth for girls in the city, another amazing achievement from this past season. Boutin placed 19th in the state, with Simone Isip and Lucas Simpson qualifying for the championships as well with remarkable times, making the team proud. Jaguars Simpson, Boutin, Baila Ashe, Hana Ohashi, Peter Cleary, Isip, and Nadav Gilad-Muth even continued to compete in nationals last December (though technically not under the banner of John Jay). “Being able to work as a team is what’s important,” says Coach Iboy who teaches at Park Slope Collegiate. “It doesn’t matter what place you’re in, whether it’s [the] top five, seven, or if you’re varsity or JV. Everybody was there. Everyone was really communicative with each other, there was 100% attendance, and we definitely had some individual breakthroughs.” 

Although the effort of getting to these meets were great for many, it is safe to say that the experience of the day counterbalanced the strain of the travel for all runners. The little moments experienced with each other, not to mention the shared thrill and anxiety of having to compete, bonded teammates together. “I never expected us to be so close,” says sophomore runner Hana Ohashi. “I think the environment you get in cross country is really unique.” The post-meet trips to Lloyd for carrot cake, sing-alongs, the backhills, and the chant that christened the team the Loudest in the City were the kinds of things that stuck with the runners long after the season was over. 

For many runners, the cross country experience is more than just competing or striving to push your physical limits. “It’s really a community,” says runner Baila Ashe. “With any team, you bond with everyone else, but especially with us, I feel like we just get along really well and have a lot of fun with each other, and we all just have a lot of respect for each other.” The immense amount of support that each runner has for another is a big factor that builds the running camaraderie. “Everyone there was running the same thing, and through this everyone feels the same pain–so that’s what builds the community,” says student team manager Jayla Martinez. “Especially for our team, the way that we all hyped each other up before each meet really brought up adrenaline and made it all worth it.” 

Despite the fact that this season has been considerably smoother than last as the state’s hold on Covid has improved, it has also been one of new beginnings for completely unrelated reasons. Coach Nagano, a millennium cross country coach for the past six years, took leave and the team welcomed Coach Iboy of Park Slope Collegiate. “He’s a super effective coach,” says junior runner Michelle Lorenc. “He communicates so well with everyone on the team and he’s also so enthusiastic every time we see him at practice which makes it ten times better. He cares for each runner individually so well.” A substantial change has been the fusing of the John Jay campus’s sports teams that shifted the Millennium Phoenixes into the John Jay Jaguars. Although the majority of the John Jay cross country team consists of Millennium runners, the shift has made a noticeably positive difference. “It was a way of combining everyone in the whole building,” says Iboy. “Everything used to be kind of segregated, and whatever happened on one floor stayed on one floor. But now everyone is intermingling, having friends from different floors, different schools. It’s definitely made us stronger.” He says that although the team is Millennium heavy, the students from other schools integrated into the program seamlessly. “Once we got that down, it was about what it means to be a cross country team.” 

For many members of the team, this was their last season. With a one minute PR from Oliver Brill, a big push from Savannah Craig, a maintained streak from Grey Downey, a minute PR from Ariel Escamilla, a PR at Borough Championships from Selena Ishikawa, a 3 minute PR from Jonesy Strell, a minute PR from Iris Vanderloo at City Championships, and finally Simone Isip placing tenth in the city, and helping lead the John Jay Girls team to victory at that very first meet of the season, the seniors constantly serve as role models for many younger runners, and their loss will definitely be felt after graduation. Senior Simone Isip says “I[‘ll] miss our community and all the small moments that came with it: the nervous hands-in before races, attempting to do homework before practice in Coach Hines’s room, freezing at meets no one dressed properly for, sprinting to cheer for people at different points of the race, crowded train rides to practice, warming up in the hallways for strength training, having to do push-ups because I was late again… all those little funny things that make the pain of the sport worth it.” 

As each passing season approaches some sort of normalcy as the pandemic wanes, hopes for the next season begin to resurface. Coach Hines says: “We’re going to lose some strong runners who are going to graduate…[but] we still have a really strong core of athletes coming up. I think we’re going to be one of the strongest teams in the city next year.”