NORTH ROBINSON — Defending the Colonel Crawford Early Bird Invitational title meant more to the Northmor girls cross country team than just another victory.
The Golden Knights have dedicated their season to Kristen Peters, a 16-year-old teammate who died in a car accident in July, just one day after receiving her drivers license. Each girl ran Saturday’s race wearing the intials K.P. in black marker on their shoulder.
“It was really hard to grasp at first. We really didn’t believe it,” said senior Kendall Fout, who finished third with a time of 21:42.93. “It’s something that during a race, when I feel like I want to quit, I think, ‘Come on, let’s do this for Kristen.’ She wouldn’t want me to quit. She’d want me to keep going. She is just always there with me now.”
Last week, Northmor won its own invitational on the same course where team members painted a rock in honor of Peters. It’s also a course that brings back plenty of memories of their teammate.
“We know we have to be stronger for the younger kids and remind them to think of her and keep going through the hard times,” senior Brianna Heminger said.
Golden Knight senior Dani Blum won the race with a time of 20:01.30 and Northmor’s top six all finished under 23 minutes, scoring 35 points to edge out runner-up Hopewell-Loudon.
“I have actually dedicated my season to her,” Blum said. “She was my friend and I have known her since she was in the sixth grade.”
Coach Mark Yaussy said it’s been rough on his team. He was forced to deliver the news about Peters on the last day of cross country camp.
“Having to tell 36 girls they lost one of their teammates. … It’s been a struggle,” Yaussy said.
Yaussy said the team plans on creating a scholarship through donations in Peters’ memory.
Teammates Fout, Heminger, Kayla Duryea, Katie Burson, Jessika Clark and Isabelle DiTullio were all pallbearers at Peters’ funeral.
“It was defintely one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Fout said. “I think it’s definitely brought all of us closer as a team. We’ve always been super close, but it’s definitely brought us closer.”
The team often visits the crash site memorial, decorating it with flowers, an old pair of spikes and a Snickers Almond Bar, a candy involving a favorite memory from a cross country sleep over. During last week’s Northmor Invitational, the Golden Knights bought Peters a T-shirt which everyone signed to be framed.
This year’s team shirts will feature wings with the intials K.P. The girls also bought beads to lace up their spikes in Peters’ favorite colors with the letters K, P and a heart so their teammate can run with them every step of the way this season.
“We are all a family,” Blum said. “A dysfunctional family, but we are family. Kristen was our little sister in every way.”