WESTIELD, NJ — Senior Mia Melao broke the school record for the course last week at the Cross Country Meet of Champions, helping her team come in sixth place and medal at the meet for the first time since 1995.

“Mia embraced the training and racing plans all season and continued to improve throughout,” said Jen Buccino, who coaches the team with Joe Berardi. “She had her eye on the school record for the course at Holmdel and accomplished it with an official time of 19:38.36 ahead of the previous time of 19:38.75 set by Gabby Stravach in 2013 at the Group IV Championship.”

This week’s Ron Bansky and Associates Allstate Westfield Athlete of the Week considers Stravach her role model.

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“Gabby was a freshman in college when I was a freshman in high school, so we never actually ran together at all, but she is such an inspiration to me,” she said. “She is so talented and dedicated, and there is no one I look up to more in my running career. She left a legacy at WHS and is continuing to do amazing things in college.”

Melao has been running cross country since her freshman year.

“I love cross country because of the team aspect,” she said. “My favorite part about racing is knowing every girl I pass will help my team. We are extremely close this year, and every race we ran this championship season we ran for each other.”

Melao said she is extremely proud of the team's performance this season.

“We have had the goal of running at the MOC as a team since June when we started training,” she said. “We planned our season around this goal, only running in select meets so that we would be able to peak in November. We knew we would have to work extremely hard, as no girls team from Westfield has gone together since 2000. We were on track to reach our goal when we found out we had lost one of our top runners, Emma Jackler, due to a stress fracture. This news was devastating and I honestly could not believe it. Emma's not only my running buddy but also my best friend, and I was so upset to not have her by my side in races. “

The day after they found out about Jackler’s injury was the county championship, where they would take first place.

“I could not be more proud of my team for the way they handled this race,” Melao said. “We knew we had a goal in sight, and we all knew we would have to step up our game, because we had worked too hard to let anything stop us from getting there. Everyone did, and I am so proud of us for it. We used the win at this meet as motivation for the state sectional race, where we placed third and had girls top the all-time list. The next week was groups, which was one of the best experiences of my life. Together we all stepped up and ran an outstanding race, and ended up placing third and automatically qualifying for the Meet of Champions. I can't express how amazing that felt. Going on to medal at the MOC topped it off, because getting on the podium allowed us to show the state what we've worked for. This championship season has been absolutely incredible. I ran PRs at every race from the county championships to MOCs, and I am very excited about that.”