Abbey Santoro is a sophomore at Texas A & M University in College Station, Texas. A graduate of Keller High School in Texas, she helped the Indians reach Nike Cross Nationals in her last two seasons of cross country and was a three-time top 10 finisher at the UIL Class 6A Cross Country Championships. She reflected on her time in the sport in this essay for MileSplit.
"You have to be willing to buy into the process, to buy into the program, to buy into each other." -- Abbey Santoro
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By Abbey Santoro - Keller High School, '18 - Texas A & M University, '22
Whoever said "teamwork makes the dream work" couldn't have been more right.
In a sport where it's easy to get caught up in who's running the fastest times, it's easy to fall victim to the comparison game. Many people see cross country as an individual sport, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Cross country is arguably one of the greatest team sports to ever exist.
The ability for seven people to go from not knowing one another at all, to being willing to do almost anything for one another speaks volumes about the sport. I truly believe that.
During my senior year at Keller High School, we entered the cross country season as the defending state champions. We took each day as it came, but our two goals going into the season were to become back-to-back state champions and to finish on the podium at NXN. The previous year we qualified for NXN and finished 15th, but honestly, we were just happy to be there.
Going into the new season, our coach expected more from us. But it wasn't enough for him to believe in us. That's not how this sport works. While the support of a coach is extremely important to the success of a team, it's not everything. If the team members don't believe for themselves what they are capable of, it's all for nothing.
You have to be willing to buy into the process, to buy into the program, to buy into each other. If you're not willing to be 100-percent committed to the team, I guarantee there will always be someone who will go after your spot. It's not enough for your coach to want it for you. You have to decide to want it for you/yourselves.
Something I think a lot of people fail to realize is that as soon as you step on the line on race day, it's not about you anymore. It's about the team. It's about running for something bigger than yourself. You have to put everything else aside in order to put the best version of yourself out there on race day. That's what being a good teammate is: Getting out there even when it's hard. Because you're committed. Because you chose to be here. Because your team is counting on you.
And that year, the build-up to NXN was almost perfect. We walked away from the state meet with our second title. We had put in the miles and we knew we were ready. We just had to qualify first. NXR South was the next step. It always served as a state meet 2.0, and this year it was no different.
Nothing guaranteed our place, despite our win two weeks earlier. And what do you know? Southlake Carroll finished first that day and we finished second. We regrouped, refocused, and remembered our goal.
What we had worked so hard for all year.
Something I think a lot of people fail to realize is that as soon as you step on the line on race day, it's not about you anymore. It's about the team. It's about running for something bigger than yourself. You have to put everything else aside in order to put the best version of yourself out there on race day.
December 2, 2017. Race day was here. We lined up for what would be my last high school cross country race. But I wasn't alone. My teammates were side-by-side, ready to race together one last time, and that's exactly what we did. We ran for each other that day and I couldn't have been prouder of our performance. We would finish in fourth place, just outside our goal of a podium finish, but it wasn't like we had failed.
I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of pride for my teammates. While we fell short of our goal, I know each of us did everything we could of to give ourselves the best shot. Vail Valley who finished third, was just a little bit better than us on that day.
What I didn't tell you was that we didn't even make it out of regionals my freshman year. My sophomore year we were third at the state meet. Junior year we finally got the win. And that is a feeling I will never forget. It didn't come without everything that came before it.
The best part of being on that team wasn't winning, though. The best part was that I knew all seven of us were on the same page. That was the game-changer. We knew what we wanted and we were willing to do whatever it took to get there. Every time we lined up together, it was for each other. That kind of team culture takes time to build, but nothing worth having comes easy. Our coach set us up for greatness, but we took ownership of it and gave ourselves the chance to do something great.
Keep showing up. Keep taking ownership of your running. Keep pushing your teammates forward.