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Female prep athlete of 2017-18: Mayoral finds the keys to staying on top

For Amanda Mayoral, the trick, in hindsight, was that she made it appear to be such a leisurely endeavor.

The state championships came so naturally and so frequently these last three years, on the dirt tracks in the fall and on the rubber tracks in the spring. All totaled, 10 gold medals in cross country and track and field. Including four this year.

And while the recent Cleveland High graduate today becomes the Journal’s female prep Athlete of the Year for 2017-18 – an honor she is receiving for the second straight year – there is almost an obligation to outline the complexities that sometimes accompany her gift.

To wit: At the Nike Southwest Regional Cross Country Championships south of Phoenix last November, Mayoral, even with her awesome skills and established résumé, found herself on the verge of withdrawing from the race.

“She was doing all her normal stuff,” her mother Jessica said. “But once she got to the meet, she just transformed. She was overwhelmed – so badly that she was getting ready to get in the car and (have me take her) back to the hotel.”

Amanda ran.

“Amanda, cut the BS right now. You’re ready. You came here to compete,” Jessica told her.

Mayoral went out and won the race – a theme that permeated throughout her entire career at Cleveland.

All she did in a Storm jersey was win. For the third straight season, she completed a perfect cross country season with a resounding victory at the Class 6A state meet. During this spring on the track, Mayoral competed a combined 13 times in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter races.

She didn’t lose once.

“Dominating,” retiring Cleveland girls track coach Tim Flores said with admiration. “It never looked like she was working hard, but she put people away.”

Mayoral signed with Oklahoma State to compete in both sports. The 18-year-old closed her career in brilliant fashion earlier this month at the University of New Mexico, sweeping the three distance races at the state meet – which was perhaps the only thing she had yet to accomplish at Cleveland.

“That day, looking back, was a lot more special than I would have thought,” she said. And her brief bout of anxiety in Arizona last December proved to be beneficial down the road, in that respect. “It’s a true testament to how strong I am in my head.”

Mayoral certainly will go down as one of the great distance runners in the metro area in the last couple of decades.

“By far, my senior year was the most fun, but the pressure was still there, yeah,” Mayoral said. “But it was less than previous years. I stepped back and enjoyed it a little bit more this year. Leaving it behind will be so difficult to do.”

Her coaches were asked if Mayoral’s gaudy results were a byproduct of skill or will.

“Both,” Flores answered. “She’s a hard worker, and there were times, even Kenny (Henry, Cleveland’s cross country coach) didn’t feel she was doing everything she had to. But when he or I got after her, she always responded and did the extra work she needed.”

Said Henry: “It’s an equal thing. In certain circumstances, it was one over the other. Many times, she obviously had a great ability; other times, like the regional meet, with a field of some of the best athletes in our country from our region, you could see it in her face. She was out there to do something special. In that circumstance, it was her will. For me, it was almost a surreal experience.”

It is difficult to separate Mayoral’s winning ways from sport to sport, since she so fluidly dictated pace in both. Henry even had to have her run with the Cleveland boys since no Storm girl was capable of pushing her. When challenged, as she was frequently, especially in track, she simply elevated her performance at the crucial moment.

Mayoral credited Flores for teaching her to become a “warrior.”

“To have somebody that dominant was a joy for me to coach,” Henry said. “It was such a thrilling deal to have her, especially when she did some of the things she did.”

But now, with college fast approaching, Mayoral must begin anew. She was always a great front-runner at Cleveland; for the first time in years, she’ll have to run from behind once she gets to Stillwater.

“(I want) to reinvent myself,” she said. “I’m going to learn from them and I’m not going to put pressure on myself that first year. Because I’m going to be starting from the bottom. But I’ll learn to roll with the punches, even though it might knock me down sometimes.”

This perspective, perhaps, allows her to appreciate her Storm years. Mayoral at the state meet said the journey was something much harder than people probably imagined, and she reiterated that earlier this week as she spoke of her gradual maturity during her five-year Cleveland career in which she said she fused her physical skill with her mental strength.

“People think it’s easy because I’m at the top, but they don’t see the hard work and discipline to (stay) at the top,” she said. “Mentally, emotionally, physically … it’s exhausting. I expect myself to be the best every single day.”

Francisco Mayoral, Amanda’s father, recited an oft-spoken phrase that he thought applied to his daughter.

“Anybody can be No. 1,” he said. “But to stay No. 1 is the hardest part.”

ABOUT AMANDA MAYORAL

Age: 18

School: Cleveland

Birthplace: Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

Parents: Francisco and Jessica

Sibling: Jared, 22

Next: Mayoral signed to run cross country and track for Oklahoma State, which she chose over New Mexico and Texas A&M. She said she will not be competing in next weekend’s Great Southwest meet at UNM, as she prefers to rest up before taking on the stifling heat and humidity of central Oklahoma. She has not decided on a major.

Recap: Mayoral won 10 gold medals at New Mexico state meets: three in cross country, three 3,200-meter titles, a pair of 1,600-meter crowns, one 800-meter victory and she also was part of a winning medley relay in 2017. But the highlight of her career was a triumphant run at the Nike Southwest Regional Cross Country Championships in Arizona last November.

Lesson learned: Even when Mayoral didn’t have her ‘A’ game, she realized it was necessary to push through. “Having the previous feeling of being accomplished is what pushed me to get past the finish line in a race where I didn’t feel good,” she said.

They’ll need plenty of Face Time: While Amanda heads off to Stillwater, Okla., her father will be in south Florida where he’ll be stationed for the next year as a pilot with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection department. Jessica will remain here in New Mexico with Jared, who recently finished course work in Lubbock and will graduate from Texas Tech in August after completing some online courses.

Did you know? Mayoral is, shall we say … well, let her say it. “I’m so indecisive about everything,” she said, smiling. “It’s kind of funny.”

Manzano High School’s Jordan Byrd, the Journal’s choice as male prep athlete of the year in the metro area, poses with Cleveland High School’s Amanda Mayora. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

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