By Mark Oftedal, Head Coach
For those that have read my Finish Line submissions in the past, or attended an end-of-season celebration, or perhaps asked me in passing, “Was it a successful season?” you’re probably tired of my response: “I’ll know years from now when I run into an old team member and they tell me they still enjoy running and they make time to fit it into their life, or they’re training for a marathon, or have just set a new personal best in their latest race.” I continue to hold to that standard for a “successful season.”
My personal perspective on success aside, Rowland Hall cross country had a lot of fun and accomplished much in 2021.
On the girls’ side, after saying goodbye to three senior team members last year—the glue that seemed to keep the team together—I was concerned we’d not be able to field a full team this season. However, our sole returning team member, sophomore Sophie Zheng, was joined by fellow sophomores Neha Dixit and Hayden Kaufman-Schiller and ninth graders Winston Hoffman, Isabelle Jiang, and Ruby McMaster, and all, except for Hayden, were new to Rowland Hall! Even more surprising than this magical appearance of a full girls’ team was how quickly they jelled. A positive dynamic developed quickly and continued to grow throughout the season.
For the boys’ team, seniors Tyler Gerstein, Max Smart, and George Wintriss returned for their fourth year, and were joined by returning juniors Will Cunningham, Rodrigo Fernandez-Esquivias, Evan Jahn, and Ezra Shilling Rabin and returning sophomores Dean Hijjawi and Max Jansen. In addition to these experienced team members, we excitedly welcomed seven newcomers to the team: junior Zach Selzman, sophomore Sam Morse, and ninth graders Grant Downes, Eli Hatton, Owen Keil, Hasan Rahim, and Milo Thorne. Not unlike the girls’ team, the cohesiveness of these runners, old and new, became quickly apparent in their early training efforts and in the opening race of the season, where many of them worked for top-10 spots on our team.
Except for the cancellation of the Bob Firman XC Invitational due to COVID-related restrictions in Idaho, we were able to fit in a full season of racing. Our runners—apart from a very few who needed to take a race or a few days off from training because of minor injuries or sickness—were not just able to toe the line at our contests; more frequently than not, they bettered their times along the way, with our best performances occurring during the final three events on our schedule.
Rowland Hall hosted the Region 17 Championships again this year at Historic Wheeler Farm, and, with the generous and wholehearted support of our parents (not just for this event, but all season long), the event was a success once again! Sophomores Hayden Kaufman-Schiller and Sophie Zheng finished in the top 10 (fourth and ninth, respectively) and advanced to the Utah State Championships, while the girls’ team finished just eight points out of second place. In the boys’ race, Ezra Shilling Rabin was our Region 17 champion, and Evan Jahn captured second place. Will Cunningham, Zach Selzman, and Max Jansen took the sixth, seventh, and 10th positions to complete the boys’ total team score, while Eli Hatton finished 11th and Milo Thorne, completing the seven-member varsity team, was 13th. Our boys handily won the region championship with 26 points over the second-place finisher, Waterford, at 48 points—our ninth consecutive region title.
October 27 was a beautiful fall day for the Utah State Cross Country Championships. Running in the inaugural races of the new 5K state course at the Regional Athletic Complex, our nine Rowland Hall harriers represented our school with outstanding efforts from start to finish. Caught up in the excitement of the day, Hayden Kaufman-Schiller and Sophie Zheng ran gutsy performances from the start, both clocking much faster-than-usual first-mile splits. Though their finish times were not personal bests for the season, their first-mile splits bode well for fast times in the years ahead—and for the spring track season’s shorter races.
Our boys’ team finished an impressive second place, with 65 points, behind Millard (24 points) and ahead of North Summit (117 points). Ezra Shilling Rabin led our varsity squad in a closely contested race the entire 5K distance, placing second as an individual. Next to the finish line was Evan Jahn in ninth, then—in 20th, 21st, and 22nd places—came Will Cunningham, Eli Hatton, and Zach Selzman, respectively. Following our first five scoring runners were Max Jansen and Milo Thorne. All seven of our varsity team members ran personal-best 5K times on the new course to end their seasons. Securing top-10 spots in the State Championships assured Ezra and Evan All-State honors—icing on the cake with the second-place team trophy in hand.
We bid a bittersweet farewell to our seniors, Max Smart, George Wintriss, and Tyler Gerstein (with the hopes of maybe seeing them on the track this spring) at an after-school celebration at the close of another beautiful fall day. Our traditional awards (recipients listed below) were announced and presented after we all ate more pizza than anyone probably should in one sitting, thanks to the very generous gift of the McMaster family and Pizza Nono.
Speaking for coaches Dr. Laura Johnson and Giselle Slotboom, we all wish to thank the parents and the extended families of our team members for your support this season. Successes, small and large, would not be possible without this entire team working together. You’re the best!
2021 Rowland Hall Cross Country Team Award Recipients:
- Most Valuable: Ezra Shilling Rabin and Hayden Kaufman-Schiller
- Most Improved: Ruby McMaster and Eli Hatton
- Coaches’ Choice: Rodrigo Fernandez-Esquivias and Neha Dixit
- Tough-as-Nails: Milo Thorne