As her legend grows, Seabury Hall's Dakota Grossman is all about getting better. Baldwin's James Pearson has watched from up close and learned along the way.
Grossman, who won her third Maui Interscholastic League and state cross country championships in her junior season, is The Maui News MIL Girls Runner of the Year. Pearson, a senior, won the league title and finished eighth in the state race to claim the MIL boys award.
"My training this year felt much better than last year," Pearson said. "Everything I've worked for finally paid off. Working hard gets you what you want, so I feel pretty good with what I've accomplished."
James Pearson of Baldwin High School capped his prep cross country career by placing eighth at this year’s state meet, while Seabury Hall junior Dakota Grossman claimed the title for a third consecutive season.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Pearson knows Grossman is putting in that same kind of effort.
"I know that she is working hard and that," he said. "When I see her, I know I'm kind of not at that high a level, but for the guys, I am their Dakota, so I need to try my hardest, too."
Grossman is unbeaten against Hawaii runners and can become the second person to claim four state cross country titles next fall, joining Punahou's Eri Macdonald, who swept the races from 1995 to 1998.
Grossman's six combined individual state titles in cross country and track put her into a tie for second all-time for an MIL athlete, with swimmers Jack Pope of Lahainaluna and Cheyne Bloch of Baldwin. The all-time leader is former Seabury runner Tia Ferguson.
"I definitely feel like I'm growing a lot, too - that kind of affects my performance," said Grossman, who has added 3 1/2 inches to reach 5-foot-9 1/2 in the last year. "That growth has kind of taken some of my strength, so this past season I felt like I didn't really improve that much, but I think I'm definitely going to this year."
Grossman is one of six Spartans on the All-Star team, along with Kiana Smith, Ally Smith, Christy Fell, Lia Matsunaga and Jenna Loesberg. The others are Nikki Musto of King Kekaulike, and Baldwin's Ellie Bio, Sage Saito and Erin Murashige.
Grossman finished 61st in the Foot Locker West Regional Championships in November.
"There are times, definitely, in the MIL where every meet I have to run against myself," she said. "I just try to run as fast as I can and switch it up a bit, but if it doesn't work out it's hard. The lack of competition makes it pretty difficult to improve my times."
Pearson is joined on the boys All-Star team by Seabury's Brenden Heitzman, Nic Colon, Duncan Harrison and Alden Simmer, Akona Adolpho of Molokai, Corban Kaikkonen of Lahainaluna, Cody McCorriston and Devin Vandervoort of Maui High and Xavier Damo of Maui Preparatory Academy.
The teams are based on the top-10 finishers in the MIL championship meet.
Pearson has Oregon Institute of Technology at the top of his college list - he wants to be a civil or electrical engineer.
Before that, he will try to help the Bears defend their state boys team track title this spring.
"I'm really excited for track," he said. "We can definitely defend that state title. We just have to get some points out of places that we didn't last year."
That would include Pearson, who finished eighth in the 1,500-meter state final in May.
"I hope to win the 15 this year, that is one of my goals, as well as the team winning again," Pearson said. "I can't believe cross country is over - it went by so fast, way too fast."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com