Written By Matthew Hamilton
The cross country team participated in the 57th Punahou Cross Country Invitational on Sunday Oct. 4. Gunn won the boys’ varsity division that came down to a sixth man tie-breaker. The girls came in second in the varsity division. Junior Gillian Meeks won the girls’ varsity division and broke the course record by one minute and three seconds.
“We did great,” junior Simon Rufer said. “It’s the first time in a long time that the boys did better than the girls.”
For the first time in four years, the cross country team was able to leave the state for a meet. The team used to have a tradition of going to an out-of-state meet every other year, but with changes with coaches and administration, the team was unable to go until this year. Second-year coach Patti Sue Plummer was approached by current seniors last year about the idea of reviving the tradition. “I think it’s amazing what our team captains have done,” Plummer said. “They really had to figure this all out from scratch, and they did.”
Senior captain Noah Krigel helped plan the trip. All administrative responsibilities were taken on by him and his fellow captains. “Second semester last year we approached Patti Sue about doing an out-of-state trip, and she said if you plan it, I will sign off on it,” Krigel said. “We called airlines, hotels and made itineraries, and then filled out the required paperwork.”
Hawaii was settled upon by chance. Senior captain Mack Radin noticed that Sarah Robinson (Class of 2014) was wearing a Punahou Invitational shirt to practice. Radin asked Robinson how she got the shirt, and Robinson explained that during her freshmen year the team went to the Punahou Invitational. Team members such as senior Michelle Zhang also had siblings who attended Gunn and relayed stories about the trip. “We also really wanted to go to Hawaii,” Krigel said.
One of the largest benefits from the trip was bonding. Multiple team members commented on the closeness of this team, and the support members have for one other. The team planned a snorkeling excursion and allowed time to visit the beach. “Unlike other sports we have boys and girls training together, which changes the vibe,” Zhang said. “I just think we are a family.”
Radin agrees this team has a strong bond. “I have been a three-sport athlete for my entire time at Gunn, and I have never been on a team so close,” Radin said. Multiple cross country teams in California have biannual trips to increase team bonding, but also to give team members extra motivation to train hard. “Cross country is really hard, and it is nice to have something to look forward to,” Plummer said. “It also gives the kids a nice incentive to train over the summer. When the season is over it is easy to say, ‘I am going train hard this summer’, but when summer rolls around the attitude is not always the same. When you have a meet like this to shoot for, it gives you a focus for training.”
From a competition standpoint the Punahou girls’ cross country team is not unfamiliar to Gunn’s cross country team. They made a trip of their own to the Stanford Invitational on Sept. 27 where the Gunn girls team beat the Punahou team by a slim margin. “We are probably going to have some competition,” Rufer said. “I am sure they are pretty good.”
The confidence carried over into the race where both Gunn teams had a strong showing. The summer work was substantiated by the first place finish for the boys in the varsity division, and the second place finish for the girls’ in the varsity division.
The boys’ team has not experienced such a high finish in previous seasons. The girls team usually places higher than the boys, but the boys have been working hard to reverse that trend.
“We have gotten a ton better, just compared to last year,” Rufer said. “Everyone has gotten better, not just the new people, but the people on the team last year have been improving. So something is going right.”
The team also enjoyed some highlights off the course. For many team members this was their first trip to Hawaii, and the team took advantage of their time on the island. A snorkeling trip and morning runs were some activities team members enjoyed. The team also had a talent show at the hotel.
“We woke up at 5:30, and saw the sun rise on the mountains,” Meeks said. “It was really amazing, it was beautiful.”
“We had a lot of food, snorkeling was a lot of fun, and winning was something that we have not done in a while,” Rufer said.
The trip will have lasting impacts on the cross country and track teams. According to Rufer, the first place finish is a good confidence boost for the boys. “It is a great start to the season,” Radin said. “The cross country and track seasons are synonymous and this sets a good tone for both.”
Junior Gillian Meeks also set the record for the course by one minute and three seconds. Meeks said the record was a surprise for her. “I was really happy with my result because it was humid,” Meeks said. “I was running by myself, and I had no idea who was going to be in the race.”
The trip may also inspire future cross country teams. “It is a good thing for the team in general to have these experiences and for the young kids to think about what they can do in two years,” Plummer said. “Maybe it will keep them motivated to stay in this program when they see they have the chance to go on this trip.”
“It was super fun, almost everyone had a good race and it was a great team bonding experience,” Meeks said.