The Cuthbertson Four: This Distance Pack Aims For Dominance

* Alyssa Preisano (left), Charlotte Bell, Stella Kermes and Justine Preisano celebrate after winning the 4x800m at the 2023 VA Showcase.

Photo Credit: Shawn Conlon/MileStat

"I think this year, our team is going to be the strongest it's ever been -- like the four of us -- and we just want to take advantage of that and work hard and try to accomplish those goals."

-- Stella Kermes

By Ashley Tysiac - MileSplit

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Ask Cuthbertson High School distance coach Kirk Walsh for photos of his athletes over the course of his decade-long coaching career and the archives are endless.

One photo, though, stands out from the others.

It's a picture of four smiling middle schoolers, small medals hung around their necks. Sisters Justine and Alyssa Preisano link arms with their soon-to-be Cuthbertson teammates Charlotte Bell and Stella Kermes following a local cross country race that saw each of them easily place among the top finishers.

Maybe Walsh didn't realize how special that moment would be years later as those runners eventually became four of the best to ever don Cavalier jerseys.

Photo: Submitted/Kirk Walsh

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The Cuthbertson four have become arguably the most unstoppable group of distance talents in the nation in 2023. 

There's proof in the numbers -- a country-leading 8:57.98 mark in the 4x800m for a U.S. No. 7 all-time at The VA Showcase; all four ranked in the U.S. top 15 in the 1,000m and 1,600m; and three North Carolina state records broken so far this indoor season.

All four girls have recorded marks below 2:56 in the 1,000m and 4:56 in the 1,600m, including Bell's team-leading and state record-breaking times of 2:49.32 and 4:47.84.

It's a dominance rarely seen by any team in a given season.

"The unique thing about this group, and you see it if you look at their MileSplit resumes, they're kind of interchangeable parts," Walsh said. "All of them are super fast. All of them run fast (for) long."

But with Alyssa graduating and moving on to Wake Forest next fall, the four realize that this could be the last chance for this special group to chase after monumental feats as a unit.

The goal for 2023? It's simple: Make the most of it.

"We knew that with Alyssa leaving next year, this would be the final year," Kermes said. "I think this year, our team is going to be the strongest it's ever been -- like the four of us -- and we just want to take advantage of that and work hard and try to accomplish those goals."

Photo Credit: Jeff Sides/MileSplit North Carolina

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One of the most memorable moments for the group of four -- and perhaps the biggest race of their careers at that point -- came almost a year ago in front of a packed crowd at the Ocean Breeze facility in New York.

It served as the site for NSAF Indoor Nationals. The stage would be where the Cuthbertson 4x800m relay squad would first begin making history.

Anchoring it home for the Cavaliers in a battle for a sub-nine-minute effort, Alyssa surged across the line with just fractions of a second to spare. The time of 8:59.85 gave Cuthbertson a state indoor record and their first-ever performance as a group under nine minutes in the 4x800m.

"It was so close that you cross the line and you're sitting there like, 'Did we do it?'" Alyssa said.

In the moment, the girls thought it was the race of a lifetime.

Nearly a year later and this team is still clocking faster times. On top of it, they're making it look like a walk in the park.

At The VA Showcase in January -- the foursome entered the meet shortly after taking a 10-day break from training after a long cross country season -- the Cavaliers breezed to a new all-time 4x800m best of 8:57.98.

"Going into that 4x800m, we wanted to stay consistent but also make sure that we wouldn't be disappointed because we took the break and hadn't been doing as much mileage," Justine said.

They weren't disappointed. The time of 8:57.98 was the seventh-best indoor 4x800m performance in U.S. history and it now sits only six seconds short of the 8:51.93 national record set by Ann Arbor Pioneer last year.

How has Cuthbertson made all-time feats appear so routine in 2023?

Walsh has a confident answer for that: Greater experience in the high-profile races.

"That's the growth that I see in them this year. They've seen so many of those big environments and now they just look forward to it," Walsh said. "They run their best when it's like that."

It began with a trip to outdoor nationals as freshmen and sophomores two years ago. Then the group traveled to Alabama for the Garmin RunningLane XC Championships for their first-ever post season cross country competition.

The 4x800m fame came at NSAF Indoor Nationals months later. Recent trips to Woodbridge and Team Cross Country Nationals in the fall turned North Carolina's finest into seasoned national competitors.

"People had heard of Cuthbertson, but we weren't super well known," Kermes said, "And I think this is the first year where we're getting a lot of attention. People are like, 'Wow, Cuthbertson, actually they've got a really good girls team.'"

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But it's important to remember where the success now all stems from, too.

Kermes, Bell and the Preisano sisters have stepped up as the latest in a long line of distance stars to bring state championships and records to the town of Waxhaw, North Carolina.

Current collegians Sarah LaTour (Class of 2018) of NC State, Wake Forest's Gabriella Castro (Class of 2020) and Madeline Hill (Class of 2021) of East Carolina won individual and team state titles in everything from the 1,600m to the 5K in cross country, while the four stars of the present were just middle schoolers and underclassmen.

Now, Bell, Kermes and the Preisano sisters have surpassed many of the bars set highly by the Cavalier trailblazers before them.

In a lot of ways, it shouldn't come as a surprise to see the Cuthbertson girls dominating on the distance front on both the state and national scale.

"People had heard of Cuthbertson, but we weren't super well known, and I think this is the first year where we're getting a lot of attention. People are like, 'Wow, Cuthbertson, actually they've got a really good girls team.'" -- Kermes

The foursome will first take on the North Carolina Class 4A Indoor State Championships, where they'll hope to lead the Cuthbertson girls program to its sixth-straight indoor team title. Bell and Kermes will tackle the 1,000m and 1,600m, while Alyssa will complete the 1,600m-3,200m double and Justine is listed for the 1,000m and 4x800m.

Then, they'll shoot for yet another all-time performance in the 4x800m at New Balance Nationals Indoor. From there, they will plan to add 4xmile and DMR efforts to the docket in Boston, too.

"We're giving it our all so that hopefully at the end of the season when you're asking what's the greatest thing that you can look back on, I can come back and say that there's multiple things that we're proud of," Alyssa said.

The national 4x800m record certainly remains vulnerable as long as Cuthbertson continues to toe the line. But chasing records isn't what brings the four counterparts together. 

Instead, it's the shared journey that's brought them within reach of high school history.

"(I'm most proud of) the teamwork and friendship we've built together, and not just racing for ourselves but racing for the team every time," Bell said.

The four are the most decorated distance talents to ever come out of Cuthbertson.

There's no doubt about that.

But they'll always be those four young runners cheesing for the camera, not knowing the history they would make in a few years time.

"When I see them run, I see a bunch of sixth graders that I remember yesterday doing this," Walsh said. "To see them out there doing these crazy things now, it's the coolest thing I could imagine."

Related Links:

WATCH: Cuthbertson Girls Runs No. 7 All-Time In 4x800m

Charlotte Bell Leads Huge Indoor Debut For Cuthbertson

For The Record: Cuthbertson Is Getting Ready For Penn Relays

Cuthbertson Girls Go US No. 4 All-Time In 4xMile

Cuthbertson Girls Set New State Record With 8:59 In 4x800m