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Newcomers dash to glory, breaking long-standing records

Fresh legs mean fast times for FC freshmen

Records are one thing in life that are made to be broken.

Kicking off the ‘23-24 cross country season, Freshman Blake Bay secured the top spot in the CIF Central Section Division 5 Championships, while also beating long-standing school records. Bay ran 16:11 at the Central Section Championships. Then ran 15:48 at the CIF State Cross Country Championship.

Blake is by far the greatest distance runner Fresno Christian has ever had,” Coach Shawn Young said. ”He was the Central Section Division 5 Champion and finished as the second-fastest freshman in California at the CIF State Cross Country Meet.”

He ran the hilly 5K (3.1 miles) course at Woodward Park at 15:48, which is a 5:05 mile pace. He has experience running this course because it’s right in the school’s backyard – just a 10-minute drive away. 

The Cross Country Boy’s team prays minutes before the start of their race. Prayer grounds this team and binds them together. (Benson Elbert)

The cross-country team restarted four years ago and is in a building phase. The FCS freshmen and recruits went head-to-head against teams with years of high school training and coaching and held their own. 

This year, nine students from all grades joined the team without prior high school cross-country experience. Next year looks promising as the dedicated athletes intend to return and maintain their training, aiming for a League Championship and State Meet qualification. While these goals are challenging, the team’s unwavering work ethic and Young’s motivating guidance will make them entirely achievable.

“For next season, we have returning athletes who should run faster with more experience and training,” Young said. “As always, we are looking to add any student to our team who has a great attitude and is willing to consistently work hard.” 

On April 9, Bay was presented with his cross-country championship ring during the boys’ volleyball game. This ring is symbolic of all his hard work and big achievements. What made the night even more special was Bay receiving the ring along with his two coaches who also got rings. Coaches James Garcia and Young presented the ring to Bay with honoring words for his dedication on and off the course. 

Bay has enjoyed running since the fourth grade, and participates in both cross country and track. (Giada Gilmore Young)

“The ring was a cool experience, but as much as I want to take credit for my win I have to give credit to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Bay said. “He’s the reason for my gift and the ability to win.”

The track team seems to be racing against the cross country team to see who can break more records in a season as track athletes are also smashing old records, setting new times.

Dotting the Fresno Christian gym walls are glossy, record boards sprinkled with names and record times of prior FC athletes. These plaques are hard to miss and represent athletes all working hard to set goals and represent their school well. 

Track is the only sport whose plaque shows actual records, many of which the team aims to surpass this year. Track records endured for years until this season’s promising freshmen – Blake Bay, Jeremiah ‘JJ’ Valorosi, and Laina Penland – broke them. 

“This year’s Track and Field team is the best we have had in a number of years,” Young said. “The encouraging part is that most are freshmen and sophomores so we should be even better next year.”

Jeremiah Valorosi, ’27, completes his first lap of two in the 800 meters, Feb 23. (Giada Gilmore Young)

Bay is the track team’s fastest distance runner and has already broken four school records this season. With only a month left in the Track season, he has broken records ranging from the 800 meters to the 3200 meters. 

Recently, at the Frosh/Soph County Championships, Bay broke his own school record in the 800 by running 2:05.98 (old record 2:06.10). Than the following week, at the Reedley Invitational, Bay broke his own school record yet again, in the 3200 by 6 seconds by running 9:50.93.

During the Rafer Johnson Invitational on March 16, Valorosi ran 10:43.75 in the boys frosh-soph 3200-meter race, breaking the previous school record of 10:43.84 set in 2010 by Doug Daniel. Valorosi’s new record time only stood for 30 minutes since Bay ran 9:56.85 in the boy’s varsity 3200-meter race, snatching the record.

As for the girls, Junior Laina Penland joined the team as a versatile sprinter and middle distance runner. She specializes in the 200, 400, and 800 meters and also does relays. Penland surprised herself and her team when she broke the 200-meter record with a time of 26.73 at a league meet on April 24 at Fowler High School.  The record was last set by Nikki Hill in 2002.

Laina Penland, ’25, has competed for the cross country and track teams for three years. In the recent Reedley Invitational meet, the starting blocks malfunctioned, but she was still able to snag a personal record in the 400 meters. She’s looking to break more school records in the future. (Giada Gilmore Young)

“I had always hoped to break a school record. It feels very gratifying to achieve a dream that I had put a lot of time, effort, and training into. The season is going very well, the team has worked hard, and I hope we can finish it with strength,” Penland said.

Coach Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young expressed how thrilled she was to see Penland break this long-time record.

“I was there 22 years ago when Nikki Hill broke this record,” Gilmore-Young said. “I am incredibly proud of Laina and how hard she’s worked to consistently chip away at her times. It’s a big deal that we will get to see her name up on the record board.”

Penland also ran a big personal record in the 400 meters at the Reedley Invitational Meet on April 26, marking a time of 1:01:14. She has a shot at breaking that school record in the future. Giada Gilmore Young is also .08 from the school record in the 100 meters.

Though their season isn’t done yet, the team strives to beat more records. Eagerly anticipating the next season, the runners for both cross-country and track teams await the chance to snag more records.

Come support the Fresno Christian Track and Field Eagles at the League Championships on Wednesday, May 1 at Caruthers High School!

To read more about Blake Bay and his achievements visit Athlete Spotlight: Blake Bay runs for glory.

For a wrap-up on cross country visit Wrap Up: Cross Country competes in League Championships and CIF Victory: freshman standout takes first in impressive debut.

For more on track visit Track and Field treks through the rain.

For more on Fresno Christian Sports view the athletics page.

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About the Contributors
Chloe McDonald
Chloe McDonald, Editor
First-year journalist Chloe McDonald, ‘24, is excited to begin her writing journey with The Feather Online. Chloe values teamwork and helping the campus stay informed. Chloe enjoys art of all mediums and serving her school through leadership class, with all glory to God. In her free time, she can often be found painting, lifeguarding, or walking her dog.
Giada Gilmore Young
Giada Gilmore Young, Photojournalist
Giada Gilmore Young sprints through life with a camera in her hand. She is a freshman at Fresno Christian Schools and a first-year photojournalist on the Feather. Gilmore Young owns her own business called Interwoven, which sells creative and upcycled goods. She plays piano for the worship team, runs Track & field and Cross Country, and serves as a student leader.
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