Geckos dominate elementary cross country


The Saipan International School elementary cross country team poses for a photo after winning first place in both elementary school divisions last Saturday in the 2022-2023 All Schools Cross Country Championship at the Saipan Vegas Country Club. (LEIGH GASES)

Saipan International School’s Baby Geckos claimed both elementary school divisions, while its high school girls topped their age group in the 2022-2023 NMA-PSS All Schools Cross Country Championship last Saturday at the Saipan Vegas Country Club.

The Baby Geckos zoomed through their first championship after the elementary boys team bucked the rainy and muddy conditions to earn 25 points. Agape Christian School settled for second place with 44 points, while Brilliant Star School came in third with 46 points. 

In the U9 individual boys results, two SIS boys made the Top 3 with Gabriel Walsh winning the gold medal with a time of 12:19, Evan Poole from BSS took the silver with a time of 12:51, while Jake Duenas settled for the bronze with a time of 13:08. 

In the U12 boys individual results, Quido Jambor from SIS was golden with a time of 11:15, ACS’ Reyviel Escarion won silver with a time of 11:39, and Kanoa Owens from Garapan Elementary School came in third with a time of 11:53.

The Saipan International School high school girls cross country team poses for a photo after winning first place last Saturday in the 2022-2023 All Schools Cross Country Championship at the Saipan Vegas Country Club. (LEIGH GASES)

The SIS elementary girls won the championship with plenty to spare after earning 16 points for SIS’ second gold of the morning, followed by Oleai Elementary School with 44 points, and BSS in third place with 69

In the U9 girls individual standings, Lovell Spaeth from BSS clocked in for gold at 11:40, and two SIS girls made the Top 3 with Scarlett Burrell coming in at 11:41 for silver, and Leilani Ruszala making the cut for bronze at an even time of 12:12. 

The SIS high school girls dominated and claimed their third cross country championships with 14 points, with ACS right at their heels with 25 points. Saipan Southern High School scooted into third place with 73 points. 

In the overall individual results, two SIS girls made the Top 2, with Kaithlyn Chavez bagging the gold medal with a time of 22:12. Chavez’s teammate, Tiana Cabrera, came in right behind her for silver with a time of 23:54, and Eunice Xu from ACS won the bronze with a time of 24:10.

In the U12 girls individual results, Erika Long from OES won gold with a time of 14:53, Hiyori Okuma from Saipan Community School won silver with a time of 15:22, and Stella Choi from Mount Carmel School won bronze with a time of 15:30.

Kathy Ruszala, cross country coach for the Geckos, said after the race that “it’s safe to say that they love running in the mud and the rain. They constantly remind me that the sport, especially at their age, is about having a good time with their friends. Don’t get me wrong, their competitive streak comes out during the race but before and after, it’s all about being there and sharing the moment with their peers.”

When asked how this cross country season went with the Geckos, she said “it was [a] bit different because I transitioned back to [the Public School System] as their speech pathologist so not being at SIS made organizing and practices trickier, but we made it work. The courses this year were different every week and that made it exciting for the kids. As always, I am grateful to the organizers for all the work they put in, the late nights and early morning setup. So happy to be a part of the run community. They do it for the love of the sport and the children!”

Additionally, SIS headmaster Dr. Ron Snyder told Saipan Tribune that “this year’s cross country season was an enormous success. This year we had four different courses from four different agencies hosting the qualifying meets. This added diversity to the season and allowed us to see different parts of the island. We were very lucky to have Kagman High School host their first invitational as well as SIS, [Northern Marianas Athletics], and Run Saipan. The development of all the athletes was amazing!” 

When asked how the championships went, he said “the championship meet was pure cross country! We started in the early morning light, with a soggy, muddy, slippery course that challenged our athletes. Strong legs, good core balance, and strategic thinking were all important in the high school race. During the Middle School race, the rain started and by the time the elementary students ran, there was a foot deep body of water the young runners had to slog through. They loved it, I loved it and was very impressed with the perseverance that our runners showed. This is what cross country is all about!”

“I am very proud of the SIS Geckos. We split the trophies evenly with very powerful Agape teams and there were some tight races. The SIS high school girls and the Agape high school boys were the teams to beat but both were pushed by up and coming runners throughout the division. The middle school race was amazingly close for the girls, with our team just 3 points behind the Agape girls and the elementary teams from SIS were blazingly fast. I loved seeing them push through the mud at the end, water splashing up almost as high as they are while sprinting to the finish,” he said.

“Overall, I couldn’t be happier. Our rival Agape took three trophies and we took three but I sense a lot of competition coming up in the 2023 season.” Finally, he said, “I’d like to thank NMA, PSS athletics, Run Saipan, Saipan Vegas Country Club, and all of our volunteers who helped marshal this beautiful but wet course. This was such a joy to be part of.”

Northern Marianas Athletics coordinated the event along with the Public School System Athletic Program.

Leigh Gases
Leigh Gases is the youngest reporter of Saipan Tribune and primarily covers community related news, but she also handles the utilities, education, municipal, and veterans beats. Contact Leigh at

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