Michael Gabbani has a mantra he repeats to himself when things get tough: pain is temporary. Moments after he crossed the finish line in first place in the cross-country season finale dual meet between Live Oak and Sobrato on Tuesday, the Bulldogs junior was catching his breath as he reflected on a season unlike any other.
“I’m grateful we got what we had,” Gabbani said. “It’s been a really fun year and just really refreshing to get a taste of what it was like to be with friends again.”
Gabbani won the boys race in 14 minutes, 52 seconds, and teammate Jessica Faulk won the girls race in 17:54. The Live Oak and Sobrato runners covered approximately 2.5 miles on a course that started on Sobrato’s track and looped around the school’s athletic facility and campus. Sobrato’s boys took the first three spots, as Michael Boyd (15:08) and Jake Lepe (15:18) finished after Gabbani.
Live Oak’s Ricky Howe (15:25) and Luke Sandberg (15:30) came in fourth and fifth place, respectively. In the girls race, Live Oak had the second and third-place finishers in Avery Smith (18:47) and Susan Kichhoff (19:32). Sobrato easily won the boys team race, while the Live Oak girls by virtue of the rules of this season took the victory. Both Faulk and Gabbani won going away, entering the home stretch with huge leads. While Faulk didn’t establish a personal-record on this particular course, she was satisfied with her race and particularly happy with how the season turned out.
“It was nice to be able to come out and compete against other teams,” she said. “Our main goals were working together, building team chemistry and just coming out and having fun.”
Faulk credited Boyd for pushing her through the uncertainty of a season ever starting. She grew up with siblings who played other sports and did “everything but cross country.”
“So I didn’t really think about it much until the eight grade,” said Faulk, who is set to run at Division III program Southern Virginia University in the fall.
Faulk had a terrific 2019 junior season that saw her finish 11th in the Blossom Valley League Championships and 21st in the Division III race of the Central Coast Section Championships. She was a model of consistency in a season that saw her with multiple top-five finishes in league meets.
At the BVAL Championships, Faulk established a PR of 20:32.8 at the Crystal Springs Course in Belmont. Even though Gabbani knew he had some running talent, he didn’t run cross country until his freshman year after talking with his childhood friend Lepe.
“I’m out here because I crave competition and I love running with my friends,” Gabbani said.
After what he described as a “so-so” freshman season, Gabbani had a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him cover a 2.75-mile course consistently around 17 minutes.
“Sophomore year, I don’t know what but something kicked in me,” he said. “I was just really fast all of a sudden and had fun with it.”
Sobrato coach Andrea Tuua praised all of the runners for their positive attitude and work ethic, while Live Oak’s Mike Kiefer said the benefits of bringing athletics back is more than simply getting kids active.
“The most important part about all this is education and how athletics and other activities play an integral part in a student’s education and keeps them focused,” he said.
Gabbani will go straight into the track and field season, but he won’t soon forget the impact of running on the cross-country team this year.
“I just remember how grateful I am getting the experiences of these little meets,” he said. “We could have had nothing, but we’re out here competing.”