Gavenas (third), Bergeron (seventh) At Foot Locker Nationals

Just like the number of the 44th annual Foot Locker Nationals, Tamrat Gavenas considers the No. 44 his lucky number.

For the junior from Phillips Academy, the No. 3 proved to be just as lucky at Saturday’s meet.

That’s the number that represented the placement of Gavenas on the challenging 5K terrain of San Diego’s Balboa Park. Ignoring the heat and some of the nation’s best harriers, Gavenas highlighted a strong day for the Bay State and the Northeast region at Foot Locker by snagging the bronze with a time of 15 minutes, 16.6 seconds.

In a reverse of their 1-2 finish at the FL Northeast Regionals two weeks earlier at Franklin Park, PA rivals Drew Griffith and Ryan Pajak claimed the top two spots with Griffith timed in a winning 15:06.9 and Pajak taking runner-up honors at 15:12.1. Westford Academy’s Paul Bergeron also secured All-American status by placing an impressive seventh overall at 15:25.3. Fellow teammate Jack Graffeo was a solid 30th with a time of 15:59.9.

Gavenas, who was in second and third throughout the race, never gave it a second thought that he he didn’t belong up front with the leaders.

“I came into this race wanting to win it,” he admitted. “I came in and was in it to win it.”

Gavenas, a fourth-place finishers at the regionals, gave it his best shot to come out on top. And so did Bergeron, who was third at the northeast meet. Both had the front-runners within their sight for most of the 3.1-mile distance.

At mile 1, a mere second separated the top five with Gavenas in second (4:44.8) and Bergeron in fifth (4:45.5) behind early-race leader Colin Eckerman (4:44.4).

“We went out fast but not crazy fast,” said Gavenas.

The Phillips Academy standout maintained his position by the second mile (9:49.6) and Bergeron (9:50.0) moved into third.

“My goal this year was to stay in close contact with the lead pack,” said Bergeron, who was finished 15th at last year’s race. “For the most part, it went well.”

Leading up to Saturday’s race, Gavenas could sense that he was peaking at just the right time for the Nationals. In addition to his top finish at the regionals, he was also a runner-up at the NEPSTA Division 1 Championships and the Manchester (NH) Invitational.

“Honestly, I was starting to get a lot of confidence at the end of the season coming into the regionals. As long as I kept within range of the guys and didn’t lose contact, I felt I’d be okay (today),” he said. “It went great.”

Bergeron was satisfied with his placement, especially considering some of the hurdles he had to clear this fall. He was unable to run for nearly a month at the midway point of the season while dealing with a lower back injury. The last two weeks, he suffered a slight sickness due to low iron.

“With a super competitive field, I feel I could be a little more energized (without the issues),” he said. “It definitely can get to you mentally.”

The two-loop course features a challenging incline that runners have to climb twice on the course, including the closing stages of the race.

That’s where Bergeron felt he lost the most ground.

“That hill hit pretty hard,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t the best.”

On the girls’ side, Belmont’s Ellie Shea earned All American for the second straight year. Shea, who was second last year, placed 14th overall with a time of 17:56.5.

The gifted junior, who competes for Emerging Elite, was in fourth place after the first mile (5:15.4). She dropped to eighth by mile 2 (11:09.8).

Cambridge Rindge & Latin’s Aoife Shovlin was 32rd overall. The two-time Division 1 champion was timed in 18:08.0.

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