Batavia's Rotolo Middle School girls cross country team recently brought home an IESA 3A state championship. Standing, from left, are Josie Adams, Alexa Andrews, Audrey Pellico, Erin Golden, Mia Gianfrancesco, Anna Holcombe and Megan Ronzone. In front are coaches Kate Hillman and Angela Carlson.
Courtesy of Christopher Cudworth
At the start of the Oct. 18 IESA State Cross Country meet for middle school athletes, members of the Batavia's Rotolo Middle School girl's team knew they had a good chance to do well.
The season had provided many opportunities not only for victory, but for personal development, growth and personal records along the way.
That's how coaches Kate Hillman and Angela Carlson plan and conduct the program. Every girl on the team is valued and everyone gets to participate.
That's how Ines de Traglia learned she could be a runner. As a student who alternately lives with her father's family in America and spends summer in Spain with her mother, Ines relished the chance to run and train with a program featuring close to 100 other girls.
"I like running," she says. "And I liked competing and moving up from like 40th to 30th in a race."
When her opportunity to shine in the JV conference race came along, Ines raced to a seventh place overall finish, enjoying the fact that she could see the leader the entire race.
Migrating from soccer to cross country was equally joyful for seventh-grader Mia Gianfrancesco, whose father is Batavia's head soccer coach.
"I think there was quite a bit of transfer from playing soccer to running cross country," her mother Nina observed. "But the running was different. The team operates like a family. And then Mia set goals toward the end of the season and kept setting new PRs (personal records)."
Indeed, Mia and her teammate Megan Ronzone were team leaders all year. Mia placed ninth in the state meet and Ronzone finished in the high 20s to lead Rotolo Middle School to a statewide IESA Class 3A girls cross country championship.
Meghan Ronzone loves the fact that everyone on the team takes a humble approach to success.
"Plus, our coaches help us get ready for meets by reminding us that this is just a race," she said. "We're not nervous or anything, just excited to be running."
The women's team that placed in state consisted of seven girls: Josie Adams, Alexa Andrews, Audrey Pellico, Erin Golden, Mia Gianfrancesco, Anna Holcombe and Megan Ronzone.
The same sentiment rules on the boy's Rotolo team, which placed third in state. Eighth-grader Beau Cunningham relates that the team's schedule includes both dual and invitational meets, giving runners a chance to develop during the season.
"Then when we got downstate, our coaches told us not to freak out," he said. "Just go out and get the job done."
Many of the runners in the current program have had older brothers and sisters involved in Batavia cross country. Such was the case with Cunningham, whose older brother Alec ran four years for Batavia. As the younger brother, Beau participated in summer running with the Batavia Accelerators program managed by Scott Kurth and Keith Gollwitzer. That program is similarly geared to encouraging young runners to find fun in running while learning to train, manage their diet and compete in a healthy manner.
The boy's team that placed third in the IESA state meet is coached by Adrian Rios and Mark Montgomery. Varsity members included Adam Kennedy, Joey Knanishu, Ben Barranco, Andrew Lillig, Reid Coyle and Beau Cunningham. The time spread in the state meet between first and seventh runners was a mere 27 seconds, a testament to team tactics in a state meet.
Adding to the thrill of victory was the anticipation in waiting for results in both the boys' and girls' meet.
"We were all together holding hands," Beau Cunningham relates. "Some kids were crying we were so excited. Then as we counted down and saw where we placed, people went crazy."
Megan Ronzone recalls that the countdown of places matched Batavia with its closest rival Yorkville.
"When they called their name first we realized we'd won."
A total of 1,261 runners from 214 different schools competed in six races at the 2014 IESA State Final Cross Country meet.
Mia Gianfrancesco's time in the middle school state meet would be the envy of women runners many years older. She ran 11:44 for two miles, under 6:00 mile pace. Add another 6:10 or so and she would cover three miles in 17:54, a time that would win many women's high school sectional meets and earn an All State honor in the state championship. She was a middle school sectional champion leading up to the state meet.
Adam Kennedy, a seventh grade RMS Boys Cross Country team member, finished 35th overall with a time of 11:01 for the two mile boys meet. Teammate Joey Knanishmu finished three seconds behind in 11:04.
So there may be bright times ahead for Batavia cross country on both the girls and boys side. But the joys of running come first, with both teams practicing and even racing together, the better to build unity, understanding and appreciation for what it takes for every runner to succeed. That's the goal of a program that champions everyone's spirit.