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Maui Prep runners experience ‘tough finish to a fantastic season’

By Staff | Nov 4, 2010

The Maui Prep runners include (from left): front — Dustin DeSalvio, Devon Bloss, Xavier Damo, Santana Huck, Zach Ferguson, Caitlyn Fisler and Caleb Bermudez; back row — Coach Keenan Reader, Devyn Torres, Nick Diehl, Josh Scott, Dino DeSalvio, Hunter Rosenquist and coaches John Deal and Dennis Nakamura. Photo by Walter Chihara.

NAPILI — For all elite high school athletes, the senior season is always the most meaningful — the most memorable months of their young lives. They have concentrated their daily regimen with their teammates to focus on a unified goal: the championship trophy. Literally and figuratively, it is eat, drink and sleep that 24/7 vision.

For senior Zach Ferguson and his Maui Preparatory Academy cross country teammates, that mountain peak would be a historic Maui Interscholastic League championship — the first ever for the West Side independent school.

The high-flying Pueo, led by Ferguson’s four wins in five meets over the course of the MIL regular season, were in a virtual tie with the Maui High Sabers for the team title coming into the home stretch of the 2010 campaign that would be culminated with the league championship event at Kahului Community Center.

The Maui Prep campus in Napili was alive with anticipation of the school’s first-ever athletic title in the two weeks — actually the two months — leading up to the MIL Championships.

“We, as a team, were confident going into that meet, and we had the support of the entire school ‘ohana as well,” said Pueo cross country coach Keenan Reader.

It was not to be.

Instead, it would be heartbreak ridge on the Maui Prep campus at the foothills in Napili, as the hopes and dreams of Ferguson, his teammates and the Pueo faithful came crashing down at the MIL Championships at Kahului.

An injured, devastated Ferguson limped across the finish line in last place at the race, his hopes — and his team’s — for that coveted title crashing to earth in one fell swoop.

In the final regular season meet at Seabury Hall two weeks before the MIL Championships, Ferguson suffered an injury to his hip and groin. He laid off his training, swam to keep his cardio up and received treatment from a doctor, chiropractor and a physical therapist.

“We tried to have him run on the Thursday prior to the meet, but he came back walking and in tears,” said Coach Reader. “At this point, it was clear that despite all of his training and hard work, it would be unlikely that he would be able to compete at a high level.

“He tried to warm up on Saturday prior to the meet, but his hip and groin instantly tightened. He was able to run the first mile, but the pain was too intense, and he had to walk the last two miles in a personal quest to just finish,” he continued.

“For the last mile, his entire team — Dino De Salvio, Hunter Rosenquist, Devon Bloss and Xavier Damo — joined him and walked the course to support him.

As Ferguson and his Maui Prep teammates crossed the finish line in last place — number 60 of 60 MIL runners, but fourth as a team because De Salvio finished fourth in the individual standings — they were greeted by Maui High’s Rocky Balala, the winner of the race and leader of the champion Sabers.

Ferguson and Balala shared an embrace and congratulated one another for their respective efforts not only this day, but throughout the season.

“This was a display of true sportsmanship and shows how Zach clearly embraces our core values, as he pursued excellence and displayed sportsmanship both towards his teammates and his opponents,” added Reader.

“I am extremely proud of the entire team. It was certainly a tough finish to a fantastic season. We started our program four years ago with the goal of working towards a championship this year. Zach is clearly upset but has taken the unfortunate circumstances well, and although he didn’t get the cross country championship, he has already set a high goal of becoming MIL champion in track, as he will compete in the 800-, 1,500- and 3000-meter events. He will take six weeks off of running and focus on swimming in order to continue his training.

These “unfortunate circumstances” thus serve to bring forth the important qualities of high school athletics in developing and promoting integrity and sportsmanship.

Yes, in the short run, Ferguson and the Pueo team’s quest for a championship was denied. But in the long run, they are the true winners in exemplifying the positive aspects of sports and life in general.

It was a character-building effort that will go a long way in solidifying a successful future for all involved.

Congratulations to these resilient student athletes, their coaches and to Maui Prep athletics.