Eighth grader Annika Marcelis is our newest Varsity Girls Cross Country champion. Yes, that's right: Annika, who's been a runner since kindergarten, is not only a Varsity champ on our team, she's a standout within the Friends Schools League. At the FSL Cross Country championships on October 17, she became the first eighth grader in FSL history to place first and take home an Individual FSL title. Her time of 19:14.55 was a personal best and helped lead the GFS Varsity Girls team to a 2nd place finish overall.
GSF Athletics Director Katie Bergstrom Mark puts Annika's win in context. "Winning the FSL Championship race is a huge accomplishment even for a high schooler, so having an eighth grader do this was phenomenal," Katie says.
Annika reflects on the race: "It was definitely strange to be an eighth grader and seeded 2nd. At first I thought people were expecting a little much of me, but I looked at the times and saw I had a fighting chance...Being the only eighth grader racing was strange but yet it was so satisfying getting that number one at that age."
Allowing eighth graders to compete at the Varsity level is relatively new, and comes just in time for Annika. The Friends Schools League Athletic Directors approved eighth graders competing at the Varsity level in league events this fall, and just last week, the PAISAA Athletic Directors approved eighth graders to compete in state competitions. Katie says, "This allows Annika to compete in the PAISAA state championship at Belmont Plateau this Saturday; this will be a big race for her and for our team."
GFS coaches Conrad Haber, Callie Hogan, and Bob Lynam have all been part of a collaborative coaching effort to support Annika's training and transition to the Varsity stage.
Conrad (Head Girls and Boys Cross Country coach) says, "Prior to race day, I sat down with Annika and outlined a race plan that would provide her with a chance to win if the race developed as expected. She ran with patience and executed the plan to perfection. When she made her move to take the lead, she was decisive and never looked back, opening a 35-second gap on the second place competitor over the last 1,000 meters."
Annika feels tremendously supported and right at home on the Varsity team. "The girls on the GFS team are so loving and supportive, so I knew even if I didn't get the place I did that the girls would still be so kind and loving. I mean, really I couldn't ask for nicer people to surround myself with while doing something I love."
We predict that we'll be hearing about Annika's racing triumphs for years to come. She says, "I'm going to continue what I know best: running, running, and even more running. I don't think anything could change my mind now, I'm a runner, and I'd love to be one for a while more."