WAPPINGERS FALLS - Gianna Frontera had to check, just to be sure. Immediately after crossing the finish line, the Newburgh Free Academy junior glanced back as a wide smile covered her face; her answer was confirmed. She had just qualified for one of the most prestigious scholastic cross country races in the country, and it felt pretty darn good.
Not only did Frontera register a third place individual and fourth place overall showing at Saturday’s Nike Cross Nationals New York Regionals, en route to punching her ticket to Portland, Oregon for this Saturday’s Nike Championships, but she did it in a memorable manner. Shaving a full four seconds off of her personal best split at the Bowdoin Park site, Frontera finished the demanding, hilly course in 18:37.7. Her Nike National qualification is the first ever for a Lady Goldback harrier.
Qualifying this year was made even sweeter by last year’s events. Although Frontera had been intent on securing one of six elusive individual spots for the Nike National Championships, she was unable to get the job done her sophomore year. Mental toughness, fatigue and a challenging course might have been the culprits. The disappointment that ensued made her hungrier than ever. Refocusing, she spent the last year dedicating herself to a different late November result. The dividends of her labor were evident on Saturday.
"Last year’s disappointment was this year’s celebration," said her NFA cross country coach, Blair Balogh. "Her performance was awesome today; I could not have asked for anything more from her." He added, "She’s had a good cross country season all along, and her continued dedication to follow through was what got her here, so the background was there; at this point in the season, it’s more about mental than physical."
That mental fortitude proved to be the differential this year. Struggling to overcome the obstacles presented by several hills in last year’s qualifier, Frontera took command this year.
"I felt really good coming down the hill at the midway point; in the past, that’s where I shut down," said Frontera following the race. "At that point in the race, I thought I had a good chance, and in the final stretch, I gave it all I had; I really did not want anyone to pass me."
Next up for Frontera will be one of the biggest challenges of her cross country career. She will be flying out to Portland, Oregon to compete in the Nike National Cross Country Championships, slated for Saturday, December 1, 2012.
The highly-revered meet will showcase some of the top scholastic running talent from across the United States. It’s a dream come true for Frontera, and she is hoping to make the most of, in every way.
"She is really going to be tested; I think it will really be good for her," said Balogh. "I don’t just want to have her go there, but really get something out of this and do something."
It’s back to that diligent physical and mental training work ethic this week, but in the meantime, Frontera wants to cherish the lingering memories of Saturday’s performance.
"This race really made me feel good about my junior cross country season," said a smiling Frontera. "It was the last meet I ran in this area, and it turned out to be a really good one."