It was a banner year for our SBA Cross Country team – in fact, it was the strongest showing SBA has had in recent school history.

As the school’s largest sport, over 120 students in grades Kindergarten through 8th Level went out for Cross Country this year, which offered even our youngest SBA students a chance to run and be part of a team.

The entire team competed at three Diocesan meets, and for the very first time, our 6th-8th Level boys team won the Diocese Championship. The 6th-8th Level girls team placed 4th overall and we had two individual runners take 1st place in their divisions (Maggie Slattery, 8th Level, and Gabe Guillamondagui, 7th Level). It was at that point that the SBA coaches realized the team was ready to reach for more.

While historically, SBA has only competed in the Diocese league, Cross Country coach Jennifer Ortner (parent to Ryder, 8th Level, and Violet, 5th Level) noticed that SBA runners weren’t as well-prepared going into high school competition.

“Many of the runners at our peer schools are competing against bigger teams and heading into high school with that experience,” Coach Ortner said. “That’s why we wanted to take it a step further and race in meets with more runners, larger schools, and stronger competition.”

She led a core competition team of about 20 runners in 3rd-8th Levels to their first-ever Regional meet. The boys team placed 1st and the girls team placed 5th, both qualifying for the State meet in Knoxville. In Coach Ortner’s opinion, one of the team’s biggest successes was competing and winning the regional meet.

“We were the mouse among giants,” she said. “These big meets are intimidating but our runners just believed in their training and focused on executing their plan. The team did an excellent job of working together and pushing each other. Most people don’t think of Cross Country as a team sport, but it absolutely is. Their teamwork was a huge factor in their success.”

What also impressed the coaches was each athlete’s commitment to improving with each practice and each meet. Each runner asked for specific ways they could improve. The coaches put tough workouts in front of them and they not only rose to the challenge, they asked for more. For example, their hardest workout of the season consisted of four 1,200 meter repeats. 

“They finished and asked, ‘is that it?’” Coach Ortner recalled.

To top off the season, the boys team finished 6th in the State Championship, outscoring schools with enrollment roughly eight times the size of SBA. In total, seven SBA runners earned All-State honors in their respective races (Ryder Ortner, Gabe Guillamondegui, Clark Steffen, Maggie Slattery, Jackson Brywczynski, Gus Baker and Violet Ortner).

And perhaps the best news? This year’s team was young, with the largest percentage of runners in the 6th Level or below. That means they still have a couple years left at SBA to get even better.

“One of the best things about this season was that it created lifelong runners out of these kids,” Coach Ortner said. “Once the State meet ended, every single one of them was talking about the off-season. They love running and want to do it year round.”

After a few weeks of rest, the team came back together for offseason workouts a few times each week as part of an unofficial “Running Club.” In February, they will start getting ready for track season.

"Cross Country is all about the athlete being able to push him or herself past a certain comfortable threshold and it takes a huge personal commitment,” said Head of School Chuck Sabo. “I certainly salute the hard work of each of the runners and to our coaches for helping them reach their goals. It really took a lot of work. Congratulations to our coaches and runners!"

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