Placing ninth at the Champs Sports Cross Country Northeast Regional on November 26, Tam Gavenas ’25 earned himself a spot in the National Championship race. Gavenas was the youngest of ten to qualify from the region.
Gavenas battled in a tight race against two other runners, outrunning both of them in the final 200 meters of the race with a time of 15:44.0. Gavenas reflected on how the support from his teammates and the preparation from his coach helped him push harder than he had ever had.
“It was a tough position for me because it was all mental… [11th place] was the only thing I didn’t want to get. It was just a long battle… and I hadn’t realized in that race what my potential was. It was just like you got to stick to it, make your move in the last 200 meters, finish well. If it wasn’t for my teammates being there and my coach preparing me, I definitely wouldn’t have had that mindset, and my legs wouldn’t have felt strong enough to finish strong,” said Gavenas.
Alongside Gavenas, Max Huang ’24 and Robert Budzinski ’26 represented Andover at the Northeast Regionals. Huang, placing 44th with a time of 16:47.9, noted how the start of the race differed from what the team was typically used to, forcing him, and his teammates, to adjust accordingly.
“I expected the race to go out super fast, and it did. It was basically an all out sprint for the first minute of the race with everyone jostling, and there was a sharp turn 400 meters into the race. The start was really fast, and then after that, it was about settling, finding your rhythm. I tried to keep passing people throughout the race. On the hills, I was just like, pass one person at a time and work my way up,” said Huang.
Held at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, New York, the Championship regional race featured 137 runners from 12 different states. According to Budzinski, who placed 37th in the Freshman/Sophomore race, many spectators lined the course to cheer on and motivate runners, alleviating the pressure and nerves of the race.
“This is a high stakes, populated meet. The energy is definitely very serious, but also people are really cheering hard for people. I was watching Tam come down the final stretch, and he was in a battle with these two other kids. It was very visible that this was the hardest all three of them had ever ran to try and qualify. People were screaming, and it was pretty crazy energy for that race,” said Budzinski.
Last year, Gavenas won the Northeast Region’s Freshman/Sophomore race. After improving by 63 seconds on the same course, Gavenas credited this year’s success to teammates Avin Ramratnam ’24, Lundeen Cahilly ’24, and Glen Cahilly ’23, who traveled to New York to provide support.
“It’s a lot about motivation. If I hear someone screaming at the top of their lungs cheering for me, I’m like, ‘Okay, I can’t let this person down. They really believe in me,’” said Gavenas.
Despite facing an injury early in the season, Gavenas recovered and served as the team’s frontrunner for the rest of the regular and postseason. Budzinski emphasized how qualifying for Nationals was a goal that Gavenas had been working towards since the summer.
“Tam works really hard. I mean, you can see it in his face when he runs. He gives a ton of effort into it. He dealt with a little bit of injury at the beginning of the season, but then he came back and was working really hard. He’s the fastest on our team, so he’s always leading our team in the races. I was definitely really happy for him because I know he really wanted it. I had talked to him over the summer, and he had said that was his goal,” said Budzinski.
Huang shared a similar reaction to Gavenas’ qualification.
“I knew he was going to be up there contending for top ten. Obviously, I was quite a bit behind him in the race, so when I finished, I looked over at the tent. There’s a tent where the ten people that qualified were in. I looked over, and I saw Tam, and that just put a smile on my face. I was hurting from the race, but to see that Tam qualified, I was so happy for him,” said Huang.
Gavenas hopes to stay injury-free in the two-week period leading up to Nationals. As just one of two sophomores who will be in attendance, Gavenas wants to use the race as a learning experience for future large-scale races.
“No injuries, that’s the one thing [in preparation for Nationals]. Training with the team, mostly focusing on what I can do best or better. I’m only a sophomore, so it’s just a lot about placing wherever I can be,” said Gavenas.
The Champs Sports Cross Country National Championship will be held at Balboa Park in San Diego, California this Saturday, December 10.