Perhaps the most surprising performance at the Maryland Cross Country State Championship was Rutvij Pandya's 4th place finish. He entered the race shooting for a top twenty finish and landed in the list of the top twenty Montgomery County performances at the state meet this decade. Although his team did not qualify this year, Blair has shown improvement over the last few years and recently won the boys and girls MCPS Division III titles. Rutvij explains why he had such a great race at states, how his team has been improving, and what the future holds for him.
MoCoRunning: You've come a long way since your freshman year, but did you ever think you would be 4th at the state cross country meet?
Pandya: No way. When I started out, I just thought that making states would be a dream. Qualifying as a junior last year was great, but this year was just special. I never thought that I could crack into the top 10, let alone the top 5 at Maryland's biggest meet and especially on that course. It was the best feeling ever and I'm still surprised.
MoCoRunning: Explain your strategy heading into the state meet and how the race worked out for you.
Pandya: After regionals, my coaches and I felt that I should aim for the top 20, and just leave everything out there. It wasn't a very aggressive strategy, but I knew that I had to get out fast and stay with the lead pack to be in contention. The week up until the meet I did some good speed workouts, which I think really helped. Going into Saturday, my plan was just to stick with the MoCo guys I know I can run with, and just to make sure I wouldn't drop off. During the first mile, I definitely thought I went out too fast, because I was with that top pack already. I figured I would drop off right after the Dip, because the back woods/soccer field I think is the most difficult portion. But luckily I had some gas left, and was able to keep a steady pace until the last big downhill coming out of the cornfields. At the top of the Dip, I heard one of my coaches say I was in tenth, which got me pumped, and allowed me to open up right before the last 400 meters. On the home stretch, I just felt really strong, and all I was thinking was "just don't stop now." When I finished, I didn't really have a clue what just happened, I was just done.
MoCoRunning: Did your teammates and friends come out to see you despite the team not qualifying to run? What was everyone's reaction to your fourth place finish?
Pandya: My teammates are the best! It was just awesome that they came up all the way there to cheer me on, and the fact that they were there on the second mile to yell at me. My main men Gregorio Cortez, Frank "Genghis Khan" Wen and I came up with this bird-call cheer during the middle of the season, and it's now a team staple. It was sweet when I could hear them going "cuckoo, cuckoo" and giving me secret messages while I was running. When I finished, everyone was just going crazy. They were really proud of me and for Blair, and it was great to have them there to share the feelings.
MoCoRunning: Although the Blair cross country teams couldn't qualify for states, it seems that they've been getting a lot better the last few years. Why do you think that is?
Pandya: I think it's a combination of a lot of factors. Most importantly, we have been getting more runners to join and that's really important in building team camaraderie as well. We've been big on team spirit, from short-shorts spirit-days (days when it's extremely awkward to walk down our hallways) and Prefontaine-movie spaghetti dinners, among other things. This really gets us pumped for races, and also gets everyone at Blair to notice us. I think finally people are realizing that cross country isn't just a sport for soccer-rejects, and that you can really put in hard work and see the results. Plus, our coaching has been perfect. Mr. Demma and Mr. Prange are like yin and yang and are some of the coolest people I know, in school and out.
MoCoRunning: What kind of confidence does your state championship performance give you heading into track season?
Pandya: It gives me a lot of motivation for track, partly because I know I can now try and stay with the lead pack and race with them. It also adds a bit more pressure, I guess, because the workouts will get harder and of course, I don't want to lose this momentum. Hopefully this will carry over until May.
MoCoRunning: Which colleges are you looking at for next year?
Pandya: College applications are hell, and I think I should quit running to work on those a bit more. Right now, I'm still really undecided. I think running in college would be sweet, if I get the chance. Mainly I'm looking at east coast schools, and Maryland would be a great fit.
MoCoRunning: Have you had any crazy bhangra dance parties so far this year, or were those lost with the departure of Johanna Gretschel?
Pandya: First off I'd like to say that Ms. Gretschel, though she thought she knew her bhangra, is not Indian. (Still, we love her.) We haven't had any dance-offs yet but I can tell there's gonna be one coming up soon, and I think we might make it a tradition for everyone to get there brown-game on. Outside of that, though, our team has done some crazy stuff this year. One notable time was during an easy day, when we jogged to Coach Prange's house and left a propane-torch on his front porch (which we took from his chemistry classroom). We then rang the doorbell and hid in his backyard, waiting to pounce on him. Me and a couple of others realized his basement door was unlocked, so we managed to get inside the house, but luckily, we didn't go upstairs, because we found out later he was waiting, ready to attack us. We also noted that he was playing Age of Empires on his computer, which we thought was funny. So yeah, the season's been special.
P.S. anytime you need a bhangra lesson, our xc team is ready to show you all the right moves...