SportStars Magazine

Concord’s Rayna Stanziano Sets A Quiet Pace

Rayna Stanziano, Concord Cross Country

Underrated and Understated, Concord High’s Rayna Stanziano Has Quietly Become One Of The East Bay’s Best Distance Runners •

Rayna Stanziano reflects the tranquil nature of Concord High’s cross country team, appreciating more subtle aspects of competition and sport, rather than the trophies and banners that larger programs collect like Halloween candy.

Rayna Stanziano, Concord Cross Country

(Photos by Berry Evans III)

These days, however, the senior is quite a name in the sport. This fall she has impressive wins at the Ed Sias Invitational and the De La Salle/Carondelet Nike Invitational. Her remarkable start is on the heels of a stellar spring in which she won a North Coast Section track and field championship in the girls 800 meters and then took third in the state in that event.

She’s generated quite a buzz around the modest little program that doesn’t even have a tent for big meets — another stark contrast to the established programs with huge contingents and banners.

Stanziano, in her shy, quiet manner, puts her imagination to work while competing. At the Nike Invitational on Sept. 15 at Concord’s Newhall Park, she was so far out in front of the pack in the varsity girls race, she opted to conjure up an opponent to chase during her wire-to-wire win.

“I was just kind of imagining that I was racing with my teammate, Logan Jacobs,” Stanziano said. “He is a sophomore, and we train together every day. For tempo runs, I am trying to catch him. So I imagine he is ahead of me and I am running towards him.”

Stanziano completed the 3.02-mile course in 18 minutes, 7.3 seconds — 14 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor. On Sept. 8, she won the Ed Sias Invitational 2-mile varsity small-school girls race in 11:36.2, a mark that was 35 seconds faster than the winning time in the girls large-school race, and her best time by 40 seconds on the Hidden Valley Park course in Martinez.


Once again, it was strength in small numbers.

“Seeing all these huge schools, their varsity teams, it’s really nice to know we have somebody who can stay with them,” said Hannah Jenevein, her teammate and best friend. “Somebody who is very competitive. And that they are scared of, kind of.”

Rayna Stanziano, Concord Cross CountryAs for Nike, Stanziano wanted to break 18 minutes, and her time would have been 17:59 factored onto the meet’s typical 3.0-mile course.

“It was a little bit longer because they wanted to avoid the gopher holes,” she said. “We are used to running on the grass over there. The geese are always over there. We have to avoid the geese when we practice. I love it when the baby ducks come out.”

Her fondness for animals is a bonus in her running endeavors. There are many chances to appreciate the smaller things in life.

“My favorite street to run on is probably Myrtle Drive (in Concord), because it’s really quiet there and they have goats,” she said. “They have a little day care with goats on that street.”

At Nike, Concord was inconspicuous, gathering at picnic tables. Stanziano is used to the school’s obscurity in cross country, but turns that into a positive.

“I think after four years I am pretty much used to it,” she said. “I kind of like being the underdog, because I just focus on my individual accomplishments, while being part of a close-knit family.”

Stanziano is part of a girls varsity squad that often competes with just five runners. Jenevein appreciates what Stanziano has done for the school and their team. Again, it’s the small things.

“We’re not used to winning huge titles,” Jenevein said of Stanziano, whom she has known since kindergarten. “And so, we are so proud of her because she has made Concord a name in the record books. She’s made it on the news and our school’s name is out there. And it feels really good to be part of something like that. At practice we push her, too, so it’s good to know we’ve helped her be as successful as she is.”

Stanziano is coached by her mother Lanette, who ran at Del Mar High in San Jose and at Cal before being sidetracked by stress fractures and other injuries. Given her mother’s experiences, Rayna is careful to manage herself to stay free from injuries.

Rayna’s first love was swimming, starting at age 5. She began running in middle school, where she set records in the mile and half-mile. And she began watching older brother Evan, coached by her mother on Concord High’s swim team, keenly observing team camaraderie from the outside.

Once in high school, she began with cross country and swimming, added track and field and learned to juggle two spring sports.

In cross country, she made the state meet each of her previous three seasons and showed improvement: 206th as a freshman, 29th as a sophomore and 11th last year in Division III.

Her breakthrough came in track and field last spring, with a stunning victory in the NCS 800 championship race, with a personal-record time of 2:10.06 to defeat two-time defending state champion Alyssa Brewer of California-San Ramon, and then taking third in the state.

“That was a surreal experience,” she said. “I am excited to see where I can go with it. Because my mentality is a lot different. Rather than being afraid going into races, I feel excited, and that it’s going to be fun.”

There is a serenity in cross country that makes it easier to be relaxed while competing at a high level.

“That is one thing I prefer about cross country,” she said. “In cross country, in the middle of the race, where there is no one cheering, it’s just really peaceful.”

Quietness and peacefulness appeal to Stanziano in other ways, including her college choice. An aspiring writer and editor, she is deciding what is next, and small is key to her.

“I am looking into Saint Mary’s right now,” she said. “I really like the environment there, and  just like how it’s a small serene little campus. Which is what I am looking for. I want it to be quiet and peaceful. I am not really into the big city scenes.”

Stanziano has gained interest from Cal and UCLA, along with Northern Arizona, Davis and UC San Diego, Lanette Stanziano said.

“She feels that even though she is a very good student and very conscientious, and has got straight As and does really well, she just knows that kind of environment is not for her,” Lanette said. “She has told me, ‘Mom I don’t want to have to get on a plane to come home.’”

Right now, she trains, runs and studies, setting goals for big things come November and a fitting finale at the state meet in Fresno.

“I have been looking at the times from last year’s state meet and trying to figure out where I could possibly place this year. I want to go around 17:30 and I am hoping I can get in the top five with that time,” she said. “The biggest part is I just want to enjoy it. I don’t want it to go by too fast.”  ϑ

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