Leesville Road senior Nevada Mareno matched the best performance of any North Carolina girl runner in the prestigious Foot Locker Cross Country Championships at Balboa Park in San Diego on Saturday, finishing second in the national race.
Only Ravenscroft alumna Ryen Frazier finished that high out of the Old North State, and Mareno’s time ranks as the fastest.
Mareno, a two-time state 4A girls champ who has signed to run at Stanford next year, ran the course in 17:08.32, about four seconds behind champion Claudia Lane (17:04.81), a sophomore from Malibu, Calif.
Mareno wasn’t the only area runner to excel on the national stage.
Connor Lane, a senior at Cardinal Gibbons, Stanford recruit and reigning 4A boys champ, took eighth place with a time of 15:13.80. He was 12 seconds exactly behind the pace of Reed Brown (15:01.80) from Southlake Carroll High in Texas.
“I’ve believed the whole year that I was capable of it. It was such a wide-open field unlike past years where there’s that one dominant guy, that I believed I had a shot to win,” Lane said. “I hung with the lead group, and I ended up fading when we went up the big hill the second time, but I was still able to hang on for eighth and All-American, so I’m happy with it.”
Balboa Park has a notoriously steep hill that runners have to go up twice during the course of the race, and it made a considerable impact on both runners.
“I overdid it a little last year the second time around, so I made sure to hold back a little bit this year, and I think that’s what helped me stay in contention,” Mareno said. “I think it’s closer to being vertical (than WakeMed Park’s hill). I think it might’ve been faster if I had crawled up it.”
It was Lane’s first time on the course, but he was second among boys who did not participate in last year’s event.
“I was the second non-returner, so I think experience certainly helps,” Lane said.
Mareno kept the same strategy she had from a year ago, when she was third.
“I went out pretty conservatively and then started hunting as many people down as I could and I then I kind of ended up right behind the winner just like last year. This year I gave it all I could, and I’m happy with second,” Mareno said.
Now Mareno awaits to see if she’ll be invited for a spot on Team USA, where she would have international events coming as soon as January.
“I was offered a spot last year, and I passed up on it, and I regretted it so much,” Mareno said. “So this year I was like ‘I have to do it again, I have to get my spot back.’ ”