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Athlete spotlight: Monticello's Bazil Mathes

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Monticello runner Bazil Mathes is in this week’s Daily Progress Athlete Spotlight.

During his sophomore year, Bazil Mathes decided to join the Monticello High School cross country team at the request of a friend after he had an outstanding spring outdoor track season as freshman.

“I had gotten into it because I ran pretty well my freshman year in outdoor track and it was almost a no-brainer to do cross country the next year,” Mathes said. “Growing up, I played a few seasons of baseball and basketball, but I mainly played soccer. I had also run a few random local races when I was young, but never for a team.”

It didn’t take long for Mathes to blossom into one of the top cross country runners in Virginia. The Monticello junior is currently the top-ranked boys runner in the Ragged Mountain cross country poll, a spot he has held since the beginning of the season.

“I love cross country and distance running so much because of how simple it is,” Mathes said. “It isn’t all that complicated on how to improve in the sport. What you put in it is what you get out, and I love improving and seeing my progress. It is very rewarding.”

In his first season as a cross country runner in the fall of 2021, Mathes won medalist honors at the Region 3C meet and then earned a ninth-place finish (16:39.10) at the VHSL Class 3 state meet.

Not bad for someone who did not race in a competitive team setting until he was in high school.

“My first time racing for an actual team was freshman year during outdoor season,” Mathes said. “I was 15 years old and I ran a 5:11 in the 1,600 meters. I was very happy with that performance because I had no idea what I was going to run and I realized this is fun and I want to get better.”

During the indoor track season, Mathes finished third in the 3,200 (9:48.70) and fifth in the 1,600 (4:32.29) at the VHSL Class 3 state meet.

The Monticello standout raised his game to another level last spring when he captured the state championship in the 3,200 (9:19.54) at the VHSL Class 3 meet at Liberty University. He also finished third in the 1,600 (4:43.56).

This past summer, Mathes upped his training regimen with former Monticello standout and current assistant coach Nathaniel Hermsmeier. That extra work has paid dividends this fall for Mathes, who has emerged as one of the top runners in Central Virginia.

Last month, he posted the top individual time (9:56.10) at the prestigious Ragged Mountain Cup two-mile relay race at Panorama Farms, the official kickoff to the fall cross country season.

That strong form continued recently when Mathes established a new Monticello program record at the VTCA Cross Country Invitational at Panorama Farms. The junior completed the 3.1-mile course in 15:34 to eclipse the school mark set by Hermsmeier, who went on to run at Virginia and William & Mary.

Breaking his assistant coach’s school record was extremely special for Mathes.

“The school record means a lot to me,” Mathes said. “Coach Hermsmeier was the record holder before me and me breaking his record is arguably more special to him. It also feels really good to be ranked first and recognized for my success. He has been very influential in my running career because he trains with me and he is very smart and experienced. Without him, I would not be running as well as I am right now.”

Races at Panorama Farms are special for Mathes.

“It isn’t the fastest course in our season, but it’s certainly a PR course,” he said. “Just recently, I PR’d there, even after running at Knights Crossing, which is on a very fast course. Also, Panorama has a lot of history in Albemarle County and even though it isn’t technically my home course, any time teams from outside the area come to race there, I like to try to defend what feels like home turf for me.”

Monticello cross country coach Doug Bloor continues to be amazed by his young star runner.

“Clearly, Bazil is simply a talented runner, but what impresses me the most is what he does when coaches aren’t watching or aren’t around,” he said. “Because he runs a bit further than most others, he will do his core/strength work at home. To get in his weekly miles, he will run in the mornings. He just loves the sport. He is incredibly knowledgeable on the cross country scene, but also what it takes to run fast. He knows the science behind it all.”

One of the traits that separates Mathes from most of his competitors is his versatile running style. Whether its blowing past runners at the end of the race with a big kick or strategically plotting his way through the middle part of the race, the Monticello standout can outpace his opponents in a variety of ways.

A happy-go-lucky kid normally, Mathes said when it’s race time, his mindset changes.

“Before the race and on the starting line, I try to be stoic and focused,” he said. “I do not show emotions, I do not joke around with my teammates anymore and overall, I’m dialed in. Before the gun goes off, I think about how much pain I am about to go through and I tell myself to accept it and enjoy the pain.”

During competition, Mathes tries to think positively and remain calm as the race unfolds.

“The worst thing in a race is when you start doubting yourself and think negatively,” Mathes said. “This causes panic. Instead, during a race, I try to enjoy the pain and competition. There are times when I feel like quitting and I remind myself that the pain of quitting would be far greater than the pain I’m going through.”

That razor-sharp focus is helpful for Mathes as he pursues some lofty goals this season. His first goal in distance running is to break nine minutes in the 3,200, either during indoor or outdoor seasons. In addition, he’s like to place 10th or better in the South Region meet to qualify for the Eastbay Nationals in San Diego.

“One of the most important characteristics a runner, or really anyone, could have is a strong fire and drive to accomplish things in your life,” Mathes said “This is what I think is at the core of any successful person. The perfect runner would be someone with incredible talent, a strong mind, a fire to do things and a hard-working mindset.”

Bloor said that Mathes’ running prowess is evident during every race.

“Bazil is extremely knowledgeable runner,” Bloor said. “He studies this stuff and clearly just loves to run. But he is also willing to take a day to play frisbee with his team, so he balances his individual needs as a runner with that of his team.”

A student of the sport, Mathes said one of the runners he admires in is Dathan Ritzenhein, a former American record holder in the 5,000 meters and a three-time national cross country champion.

“He is retired now, but I I have always liked his mindset,” Mathes said. “He is very strong in the head and I like the way he trains and races.”

If he could run with any distance runner, Mathes would choose former U.S. Olympian Jim Ryun, who became the first high school athlete to run a sub-4-minute mile in 1964.

“I would just like to see how people back then trained and ran,” Mathes said.

The junior loves competition, regardless of the sport or activity. He loves all sports, including basketball, soccer, ultimate frisbee, and badminton. He’s also a big fan of strategy games, whether it’s video games or board games.

With postseason races on the horizon, Mathes is preparing himself to be in contention for championships.

“I like how I’m at the point now where I’m a state-wide threat in almost any race,” he said. “This is only really a recent thing. Last year, I was not at that level and look forward to duking it out with some of the best runners in the state. I am not anywhere near at national level runner at the moment, but that is of course the goal. It has been very special to me to be at this level in my sport where people who are not involved in running at all know who I am.”

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