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Girls Cross Country Player of the Year: Natalie Mako of Frontier Regional

Frontier Regional senior Natalie Mako had nine first-place finishes and broke five course records this season. The  Division 2 sectional champ has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Cross Country Player of the Year.

Frontier Regional senior Natalie Mako had nine first-place finishes and broke five course records this season. The Division 2 sectional champ has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Cross Country Player of the Year. Purchase photo reprints »

Natalie Mako ran her way into the cross country record books in 2012, and now she has one more accolade she can lay claim to. The Frontier Regional senior and Western Massachusetts Division 2 champion, has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Cross Country Player of the Year.

Mako dominated the competition throughout the fall, racking up nine consecutive first-place finishes and numerous personal bests along the way. In all, she broke five course records — Forest Park, Ludlow, Longmeadow, Whiting Reservoir in Holyoke, and Frontier Regional — in her final season.

Mako also set a new meet record at the sectional championships, held at Northfield Mountain Recreation Center on Nov. 10. She finished the 3.1-mile race in 19 minutes, 19 seconds, breaking the previous mark set in 2001 by Pittsfield’s Allison Johnson.

In her final race, she placed fifth at the state championships on Nov. 17.

Mako surprised even herself with the incredible amount of success she experienced this season.

“I didn’t expect at all my season to go the way it did,” she said. “My teammates, coaches and family were so supportive of me.”

The harrier was slowed by a number of nagging injuries in her previous three seasons, but said “everything just kind of clicked this year,” allowing her to string together impressive finish after impressive finish.

Although she excelled at a number of different venues this season, Mako cited the difficult Northfield course as her favorite racing location.

“I like Northfield a lot,” she said. “It’s a very beautiful place, but it’s challenging, to say the least.”

Mako, who comes from a family of runners, had the love of the sport instilled in her at an early age. As a child she watched her siblings compete in cross country meets and quickly grew attached to the races.

“For me, it’s (about) loving running,” Mako said. “I love going out there and running in the woods. You kind of have to love the sport to be good at it. I want to do well so much, because I love being a part of the team.”

In a season full of highlights, one moment stood out in Mako’s mind.

“I think it was probably setting the Western Mass. (meet) record,” she said. “That was pretty amazing to me because so many people have raced on that course.”

She was also proud of breaking the course record of her cross country idol, Longmeadow’s Camile Blackman, the 2010 and 2011 Division 1 WMass individual champion.

As the season wore on and the records piled up, Mako recognized she could be onto something special.

“For most races, the times I needed to get were in the back of my head,” she said. “Nobody on my team, or in my family, or coaches pressured me. I wanted to go out there and perform the best I possibly could.”

After graduation, Mako, an honors student with a near-perfect GPA, plans on attending college and will major in science or math. She also intends to continue her cross country career, saying the transition from high school to collegiate athletics “would be difficult,” but would help her to see how she stacks up against elite competition.

FIRST TEAM

Grace Bailly, junior, South Hadley

Audrey Boraski, senior, Holyoke Catholic

Katie Clark, senior, Gateway Regional

Mel Devoney, senior, Amherst Regional

Emma Gonzalez, sophomore, Amherst Regional

Lily Gould, sophomore, Amherst Regional

Casey Imelio, junior, Granby

Anna Kaplan, junior, Amherst Regional

Tori Laverdiere, freshman, Northampton

Mariel Lutz, sophomore, Northampton

Natalie Mako, senior, Frontier Regional

Sophia Prouty, seventh grade, Hampshire Regional

Sara Vannah, senior, Amherst Regional

Hope Werenski, junior, South Hadley

Elizabeth Woods, senior, Hampshire Regional

Eliana Zimmerman, senior, Northampton

Emmy Zimmerman, senior, Amherst Regional

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