Starting Strong

Freshman Alexandra Manns makes varsity cross country through extended dedication and a passion for racing.

The Alumni Race is held on Redondo’s very own course at the beginning of each school year. The cross-country team comes together to inaugurate the season, reunite with their graduated teammates and compete for a coveted spot on varsity. It was the Alumni Race that placed freshman Alexandra Manss on varsity and kicked off a very successful season.

“I was so nervous. I really wanted to make varsity and I didn’t think I would,” Manss said. “But I ended up getting third out of the girls, and the top seven make it.”

Manss has been running since mid-seventh grade, inspired by her dad, who did decathlon when he was younger. She started attending Bob Leetch’s, Redondo’s cross country and distance coach, track club for younger kids to work on her technique and form.

“I would go on runs by myself, but I didn’t do much. I was trying it out and I really started liking it coming into eighth grade,” Manss said. “Running was for fun in eighth grade. I would be nervous for races, but it was more for myself.”

Manss also practiced and raced with Wave Runners at Parras Middle School when it didn’t coincide with soccer, which she was playing at the time. As she started to focus on running more, her mile time dropped from around 7:50 in seventh grade to 5:28 in eighth grade.

 Expectations were “very high” for Manss, and going into the cross-country season was challenging because of the pressure of having to perform for the team rather than running individually.

“I was often racing against upperclassmen, and I felt really inexperienced compared to them. But towards the end of the season, I started really enjoying running for the team and having a purpose. It definitely got me through some races where I was feeling [anxious],” Manss said. “[Before a race], I try to listen to music and not think too hard about it. If that isn’t working, I’ll take the opposite approach and think hard, plan out my strategy and walk my way through it so that I feel prepared going into it,” Manss said. 

The lack of time she had to “build up anxiety” prior to the race is a big reason why Manss attributes the Central Park Invitational as her favorite cross-country race. The varsity team typically races last, but Central Park happened to be a morning race for the girls.

“I enjoy morning races so much more. [Coach] Bob had told me to start slightly easier, and to push at the hill if I was feeling good,” Manss said. “I had been starting my races around 5:30 pace, but I started at around 5:50 and felt more comfortable. I did feel good at the hill, so I started moving up and ended up getting pretty close to my PR.”

Manss’ favorite track season race so far has been the 1600 meter at the Mustang Round-Up of Trabuco, where she placed first overall in her age group. She runs both the 800 and the 1600, but prefers the 1600. 

“I like having more time to plan out my moves and outsmart other people over just pure athleticism. Even on bad days, you can outsmart people to win the race,” Manss said.

Manss attributes a lot of her success to her teammates, who “drive [her] to be the best” and support each other everyday, whether it be in training or important meets.

“We’re all doing everything that we can to perform for the team. It’s something special about [the team] and the sport because you know that whenever someone does bad that you have people that know exactly what they’re going through. You can relate to them,” Manss said.

“Lyla is a big help to me. She always gives me advice on races, and how to handle the pressure and setbacks,” Manss said, referencing junior Lyla Fedio, a varsity teammate. “Tessa has been [great] throughout all of it, too. She always rides with me on buses and she always makes me feel much better going into races. It’s nice to have someone that’s always there for you before the race and her presence is calming.” 

Junior Tessa Coert, Manss’ teammate in both cross-country and track, said Manss pushes her to be “a better runner and person.”

“She’s super funny and so amazing to run with. She worries a lot about how she’s going to [perform], but she always ends up crushing it,” said Coert.

Manss enjoys the “rawness” of racing and how there’s “no hiding” anything, whether that’s how much you’ve trained or your emotions.

“Everything shows in [races], from your mental state to your ability to handle the pressure of everything. When you’re running and you go up right next to someone, if they drop back and you pass them, it gives you confidence,” Manss said. “But if they keep pushing, you have this new respect for someone that you’re competing against, and it’s a weird feeling, but at the same time it pushes both of you as athletes further. It’s an interesting type of communication you have with your competitors that’s nonverbal and almost unintentional.”

Manss has learned through running that results may not always be instantaneous, but hard work always pays off eventually. Manss has also experienced some issues with low white blood cell count and low iron this season, which has served as a further learning experience.

“Sometimes you can’t perform at your highest level, which is frustrating [for] yourself, but it’s always devastating when you have to perform for other people and you can’t do that,” Manss said. “But I try to remember that as long as you try your best, then there’s nothing [anyone] can be upset about. And there’s nothing you should be upset about either.”