Star News Feature: Cape Fear Academy Cross Country Team

From Star News 9.7.14 

Runners from Coastal Christian and Cape Fear Academy line up prior to the Seahawk Invitational at the Wilmington International Airport on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014.

Buy Photo Photo by Matt Born

By Alex Riley

Published: Saturday, September 6, 2014 at 11:53 p.m.

Last Modified: Saturday, September 6, 2014 at 11:53 p.m.

Victoria Mathew got accustomed to seeing the same view of Noelia Martinez last year – her ponytail. Mathew, a senior at Coastal Christian High School, would set a pace at a cross-country run. Many times she would fall in behind Martinez, a runner at Cape Fear Academy, early in the meet. She didn’t know much about Martinez, but she knew the ponytail when she saw it.

This summer, all that changed.

“For the rest of our sports in our schools, Cape Fear and Coastal are extreme rivals. That’s what the coaches always say, ‘Beat Cape Fear. Beat Cape Fear,’ ” Mathew said. She finished 18th in the varsity girls race at Saturday’s Seahawk Invitational.

“I think they used to be people we were just racing against. But now, actually getting to know them, they’ve become, almost in a weird sense, a family in addition to our own family.”

After years of competing in different leagues, the two private schools in Wilmington are now in the same conference (Coastal Rivers Conference). That means the two schools are going to be seeing a lot more of each other this school year.

Instead of closing ranks, Coastal Christian coach Aaron Kolk and Cape Fear coach Colin Hackman came up with a plan to bring the two teams together over the summer.

“When they said we were practicing at Cape Fear, I didn’t realize we would be practicing with them, but it was fun,” freshman Gabrelle Marushack said.

The teams got together about three times a week to run laps around the perimeter at Cape Fear. Runners often paired up with the opposing team’s athlete who most resembled their style or pace. On weekends, they would often go downtown and run hills together.

Since both schools have small student bodies, adding fresh faces gave runners someone new to talk with. It also gave them more motivation. It didn’t take long for the rivals to become friends.

“Once we got into it, we kind of adapted to it and we saw the aid in and we liked doing it as well. From then on, we wanted to continue practicing with them,” Cape Fear junior Cameron Stephens said.

The partnership was taken up a notch when the two teams embarked on a five-day training camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Cape Fear coach Colin Hackman had always told his team if they could get enough athletes to come out for the squad, he would take them on a trip to the mountains to run hills. Adding Coastal Christian’s athletes meant the numbers finally met the quota.

Members of the boys teams ran 10 miles a day (seven miles up the mountain, three miles down), while the girls ran eight miles (five miles up, three miles down). It was grueling, but worth it.

“They’re good training partners. Of course we’re going to race it out with them when it comes to the competition,” Cape Fear’s Alex Nadaud said with a laugh. He finished 18th in the boys varsity race at the Seahawk Invitational on Saturday. “It’s great. It makes us both better.”

The two teams have seen a lot of each other since the season started. Both squads took part in a conference meet earlier in the week and both teams were at Saturday’s Seahawk Invitational.

Now, athletes from both squads don’t just exchange pleasantries and move on. Cape Fear runners stop by the Coastal Christian tent and hang out. Athletes not running in a race will stand near the course and cheer on runners from the other team.

The rivalry between the two schools has always been friendly, but competitive. Kolk acknowledges he still points out Cape Fear runners to his kids during a race, telling them to chase that person down. The competitive desire to best one another has not changed. The friendship part is just a little bigger now.

“Now, knowing those people and knowing their stories, they become more than just a ponytail,” Mathew said.

Alex Riley: 343-2034

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