The island's top cross country runners braved the cold and competed at the 2019 Asia-Pacific Invitational in Urayasu, Chiba, Japan.
Normally dominated by the quickness of the American School in Japan Mustangs or the Christian Academy of Japan Dragons, things were different for the Guam teams as the runners didn't just compete, they represented, taking coveted six all-star spots.
The API, featuring 18 teams from throughout the region, six from Guam, took place Oct. 21-22. The John F. Kennedy Islanders' girls' team also took home third in the relay competition. The top 15 boys and girls received all-star recognition.
Guam's all-stars are: Trixia Nierva - John F. Kennedy High School, second place, 20 minutes, 34.3 seconds, girls; Jordan Baden - St. John’s School, third place, 20:42.5, girls; Mya Tolerson - JFK seventh place, 21:08.9, girls; Marie Gatbonton - Simon Sanchez High School, 11th place, 21:27.9, girls; Marc Rajesh - SJS, seventh place, 17:42.3, boys; and Mark Imazu - JFK, 10th place, 18:19.6, boys.
“This shows how good we’re doing, on Guam,” said Mark Imazu, Guam’s second-fastest, 10th overall, boys runner. “It shows how much practice time we put in."
“I know the Japanese people are running all year long," he said. Compared to that, … some of us are actually placing in top 10. I’m proud of the Guam athletes. All of us did very well. It was fun too.”
“My family was so proud of me, after that race,” Nierva said.
Guam’s teams that competed in the API, a top regional 5K, were: JFK, SJS, Father Duenas Memorial School, St. Paul Christian School, Simon Sanchez High School, and Academy of Our Lady of Guam.
Nierva, a freshman at JFK, shaved nearly a full minute from her previous PR, established at the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam All-Island meet earlier this month.
“I was breathing so hard, and my lungs were burning,” said Nierva, who placed second,14.7 seconds behind first-place finisher Marina Ten Have. “I haven’t been in cold weather.”
“I think the surprising part, for me, was traveling there and running in a temperature that we’re not used to, and we did as well as we did,” said Jay Antonio, the head coach at JFK. “I always told them, at the beginning of the season, that they are capable of something big. …
“I knew we had enough talent, but a lot of times it’s not just talent alone that gets you there.”
While JFK produced three all-stars, two St. John’s athletes, nearly three, raced to a top 15 finish. Gatbonton, from Simon Sanchez, was the lone Shark to receive the honor.
Baden, a St. John’s freshman who competes for head coach Desmond Mandell III on the girls cross-country team, raced to a third-place finish.
“It was my first international meet,” Baden said. “So, it was a really good experience for me. I think I did pretty well. It was an honor to represent St. John’s, and Guam. And I’m very proud that I got in the top three.”
“Jordan continues to amaze me with her strength and competitiveness, despite only being a freshman,” St. John's head coach Desmond Mandell III said. “To place in the top three is quite a feat, and for another Guam freshman to have come in second, was great for the island. The next few years are going to be very exciting.”
In the boys competition, St. John’s Marc Rajesh and JFK’s Mark Imazu were named all-stars. Rajesh and Imazu placed seventh and 10th, respectively.
“I’m not sure if St. John’s has had a boys and girls all-star in the same year,” Mandell said. “The kids were very happy to make history for the school.”
“It’s a humbling experience,” said Rajesh, Guam’s top boys finisher. “I knew I didn’t do the best at All-Island - I got fourth place. It’s good to rep Guam, internationally.”
Rajesh, who in the previous three API competitions never received all-star status, said he felt a sense of pride.
Rajesh’s goal, leading up to API, was to race strong against the Japanese teams.
“I succeeded in doing that,” he said. “The conditions in Japan were much nicer than on Guam. It was much cooler, and the terrain was much flatter."