2021 Gazette Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year: Amherst’s Tamar Byl-Brann

  • Amherst’s Tamar Byl-Brann, shown here during a past cross country meet, is the 2021 Gazette Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/10/2022 5:16:15 PM
Modified: 1/10/2022 5:15:24 PM

Amherst junior Tamar Byl-Brann found herself doing a lot of leading this fall.

Whether that came while running on the cross-country course, or encouraging her teammates during practice, she was one of Amherst’s top finishers, and continued to run at the front of the pack all season long. That success carried into the postseason, where she finished fifth at the Division 2A Divisional race and 16th overall at the MIAA Division II All-State meet.

When you’ve got the talent and dedication that Byl-Brann does, you aren’t often the one chasing very many people.

But just two years ago, Byl-Brann was more of a follower than a leader. The skill, the speed, the endurance, it was all still there — she was a soccer player for seven years before she started running — but the experience was something that needed honing. Luckily, she had upperclassmen in Vivian Jacobs-Townsley and Zada Forde to help show her the way.

“When I started in ninth grade, I just followed people,” Byl-Brann offered. “I followed Viv (Jacobs-Townsley) and Zada a lot. They ran, I just ran next to them, and I didn't ever really have to learn how to pace myself or learn like when to push or kick or anything, because I'd just do what they did.”

Byl-Brann was a sponge her freshman year, soaking up all the knowledge and wisdom that the coaching staff and her teammates had to offer. And then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and her sophomore year was dramatically different than she thought it would be. The Hurricanes ran in small pods, between two to four people in each, and there wasn’t the same chance to learn and grow.

“Usually sophomore year is the time where people can transition from being the youngest and not knowing anything... to being upperclassmen — the people in my grade didn't really have that,” Byl-Brann said. “The jump was a lot different from what I was expecting.”

But despite the struggle of essentially jumping directly into a leadership role, Amherst coach Elena Betke-Brunswick was impressed with the drive that Byl-Brann brought into her junior season. After essentially being in the passenger seat her freshman year, the junior took control of her training in a brand new way this season.

“I noticed that Tamar really wanted to take her running to the next level this year in a new way. And that she took a lot more ownership over her own training and communication with us for coaches,” Betke-Brunswick said. “She talked to me about how she was beginning to trust herself in new ways as an athlete and as a runner. When something wasn't feeling right, or she needed some more support, she would reach out.”

Though Byl-Brann is very much one of the top runners in the area, she still leaned on others to help her continue improving, whether that was her teammates or her competitors. Fellow Amherst junior April Schilling was a close competitor of Byl-Brann’s all year, and the two of them often trained together. On the racing course, Byl-Brann kept her eyes fixed on Ada Grant, Longmeadow's top finisher who has helped push Byl-Brann to quicker and quicker times.

“She's really learning through the team to trust herself. I think that's something we work on a lot, is the focus on team and this being a real team sport. A lot of these breakthroughs happen when you have the support and inspiration from the other people on your team,” Betke-Brunswick said. “That's what I'm most excited and proud of.”

What’s perhaps most exciting about Byl-Brann is where she could go from here. Only a junior, she has another year of high school cross-country left. This year’s Amherst team was a young one — not a single senior ran on their all-state qualifying team, so all seven from that contingent should return next season.

Byl-Brann said that her performances this year surpassed her expectations. For the Hurricanes’ fastest runner, the sky is the limit for where she goes from here.

Here are the Gazette 2021 All-Stars:

First team

Keegan Butler, eighth grade, Hampshire

Sicily Chase, eighth grade, Hampshire 

Leah Gump, sophomore, Frontier 

Maeve O’Neil, freshman, Northampton 

Sylvie Mahon-Moore, senior, Hampshire 

Esme Marini-Rapoport, senior, Northampton 

Ella Masenior, junior, Hampshire 

Elizabeth Sawicki, freshman, Amherst 

April Schilling, junior, Amherst

Lily Shimpach, senior, Northampton

Second team

Caprial DiBartolomeo, eighth grade, Hopkins 

Anna Dunlap, junior, Hampshire 

Sarah Fardal, freshman, PVCICS 

Alexandra Henrichon, eighth grade, Gateway 

Abigail Howard, sophomore, Frontier 

Norah Reade, junior, Northampton 

Sadie Ross, senior, Frontier

Amrita Rutter, sophomore, Amherst 

Honorable mention

Ellie Meunier, senior, Hampshire 

Taylor Lynch, junior, Northampton

Sasha Malo, freshman, Frontier 

Nicole Plasse, sophomore, Frontier 

Sylvie DiBartolomeo, freshman, Frontier 

Ava Zimmerman, sophomore, Amherst


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