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Freshman Leads North High Girls’ Cross

Maya Mualem, only a freshman, has already made quite an impression in leading the Great Neck North High School girls’ cross country team to its best season in over five years.

Mualem, a 5’ 6”, 120-pound athlete who only began running competitively last year as an eighth grader at North Middle, has already turned in the fastest 5K (3.1 miles) time in coach Joe Bonvicino’s 12 years at the school. Bonvicino says that Mualem’s 20:24 over that distance may be the fastest of any North girls’ runner since the 80’s, when another girl finished in just under 20 minutes. Bonvicino believes that Mualem will eventually better that time.

“I wasn’t as good a swimmer as I was a runner,” was Mualem’s answer when she was asked why she dropped competitive swimming after the seventh grade. “My friends were on the track team and so was my sister,” she added.  “I enjoyed it more.”

Teammate Ella Mualem is a junior and two years older than 14-year-old Maya. Their other sister, Netta, is a sixth grader at North Middle and Maya says that she’s trying to get her interested in the sport. Though Maya is a faster runner than Ella, Maya claims that it doesn’t cause a problem between them.

Bonvicino was able to spot his freshman star’s talent easily last year as both the middle and high school team use the same practice facility. “I saw her ability early,” the coach said. “She was running faster last year than many kids who were on our varsity. She had a good cross country season and a good spring season in middle school.”

“Maya endures pain like no other girl I’ve coached,” he added. “She has problems with her feet but she just runs through it. I’ve had a lot of kids who have had the same pain but they always were taking days off. She’s able to block off the pain. She and her sister, Ella, are amazing. They never complain.”

“We finished 10-3 in Conference III this season,” Bonvicino continued. “Maya led the way. We have a couple of really good freshmen like Maya and I’m really happy about how my seniors have embraced them.”

Maya agreed with her coach’s assessment of the team’s chemistry. “I feel like it’s my second family,” she said.

Running over 30 practice miles a week, Maya says, “It’s fun. I feel so free when I run. It’s hard sometimes but I work through it. But when you run races you feel so good about it afterwards.”

She admits to some pre-race apprehension. “It’s really intense sometimes,” she said. “I get really nervous before a race and running in pain and dealing with the intensity is a challenge. I put a lot of pressure on myself.”

Boncivino understands her feelings. “A lot of the pain in running is the mental anguish that you put yourself through,” the coach explained. ”It’s getting ready for the race, at the starting line and until the gun goes off. She’s putting herself through a lot of pain for a long period of time. It’s a little nerve wracking. The way she pushes herself is phenomenal. From the gun to the end of the race there isn’t a footstep when she’s not cranking it and going for it.”

 Though Maya hasn’t decided on a career she does plan to compete throughout high school and college.  Right now, her coach has plans to enter her in the 1500 and 3000-meter events in the upcoming winter and spring seasons. “Maya’s going to be going for a lot of school records in the next few years,” Boncivino predicts.