High School Sports

Leesville Road’s Nevada Mareno becomes all-American in cross country ranks

Leesville Road’s Nevada Mareno in the NCHSAA 4A state championship.
Leesville Road’s Nevada Mareno in the NCHSAA 4A state championship. newsobserver.com

Saturday’s third-place finish at the Foot Locker Cross Country National Finals came with several firsts for Nevada Mareno.

It was the Leesville Road junior’s first time in California, as the high-profiled race was held in San Diego, Calif., at Morley Field.

It was her first time competing on this big a national stage. She also announced she’ll be running in her first spring track season next year after so much success in cross country.

However, for Mareno, it will probably be the last time she enters a race with doubts. Her 17:17.6 finish behind finals champion Weini Kelati (17:09.7) and Maryjeanne Gilbert earned her all-American status within the cross country ranks.

“Before the race started, they listed out a whole spiel of accomplishments that every girl had, like three-time state champion, set this state record, all this, for every single girl that came through,” said Mareno, who won the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls’ title earlier this season and was one of 40 girls invited to the event. “To have all these people to race against and to just be in that atmosphere of people you know are going to be the country’s future in this sport, it’s just really assuring I can still finish strong in a field like that.”

Mareno ran cross country in middle school and decided in her freshman year with the Pride to use it to stay conditioned for soccer. Her passion for it grew, as her breakout junior season included a 16:36 personal record as the Cap-8 Conference individual champion.

“My freshman year and my sophomore year, to be honest, there wasn’t many days where I really enjoyed what I was doing,” Mareno said. “I think the main thing is, it’s really a tough sport. I give credit to soccer girls, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near as challenging.”

Mareno said in a quick span of 10 seconds during a long-distance race, you can blow your chance for a good finish.

So Saturday, she kept her focus intact every stride of the way.

“That first mile was really tough. I put myself somewhere … in the middle of the pack,” Mareno said. “It was in that second mile that I started making up all this ground and moved up to the front of the pack and I’m glad I made that move when I did because if I hadn’t made it, maybe I wouldn’t have wound up placing the way I did.”

Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan