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Verzbicas Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year

Lukas Verzbicas: Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year

Lukas Verzbicas

Lukas Verzbicas

CHICAGO – In its 26th year of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes, The Gatorade Company, in collaboration with ESPN RISE, has announced Lukas Verzbicas of Carl Sandburg High School (Orland Park, Ill.) as its 2010-11 Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year. Also the 2009-10 Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, Verzbicas was surprised with the news this morning by professional distance runner Alan Webb, 2004 Olympian, who earned Gatorade National Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year honors in 2000-01.

“When I received the award in 2001, it was such a pivotal moment for me as an athlete. I’m grateful to be a part of this moment for Lukas, who is truly a phenomenal student-athlete on and off the racecourse,” said Webb, who shattered one of competitive running’s most storied records by setting the American prep mark with a 3:53.43 mile as a high school senior, eclipsing the great Jim Ryun. “Gatorade has been on the sidelines fueling athletic performance for years, so to be recognized by a brand that understands the game and truly helps athletes perform is a huge honor for these kids.”

The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the racecourse, distinguishes Verzbicas as the nation’s best high school boys cross country runner. A national advisory panel comprised of sport-specific experts and sports journalists helped select Verzbicas from nearly 240,000 boys cross country runners nationwide. Verzbicas is now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award, to be presented at a special ceremony prior to The ESPY Awards in July.

The 6-foot senior won his second consecutive national Foot Locker Cross Country Championship with a time of 14 minutes, 59 seconds, and also captured the Nike Cross Nationals Final title in 15:59.2, becoming the first prep runner to ever win both events in the same season. A two-time Class 3A state champion and competitive triathlete, Verzbicas was undefeated this past cross country season, also earning victories at the NXN Midwest Regional championships, the Foot Locker Midwest Regional championships, the Southwest Suburban Conference Championships, the Lockport Sectional Championships and the Nike Northside-Southside Challenge.

Verzbicas, who accelerated his academic course load in order to graduate high school in three years, has maintained a 3.25 GPA in the classroom. Recently voted News Media & Publishing “2010 Best American Lithuanian” by on-line ballot, he is a devoted parishioner of the Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis Lithuanian Catholic Mission community and has volunteered locally mentoring youth triathletes and runners on behalf of the Multisport Madness Triathlon Club.

“Lukas undoubtedly moved himself into the ultra-elite class of prep distance runners with an unbeaten and record-setting season, while heading up the deepest national class of harriers in memory,” said ESPN RISE / DyestatCal Editor Rich Gonzalez. “His unprecedented Nike Cross Nationals/Foot Locker double also establishes him as the sport’s first ever three-time national champion, and his career championship resume elevates him onto the same performance tier as two legendary preps, (two-time Gatorade State Track & Field Athlete of the Year winners) Dathan Ritzenhein and Chris Solinsky, one who has gone on to become an Olympian in the marathon and the other an American record holder at 10,000 meters.”

“Without question, Lukas is once again deserving of recognition as the nation’s best high school boys cross country runner based on his statistics on the racecourse and the impact his accomplishments have had on Carl Sandburg’s success,” said Gatorade Senior Vice President of Sports Marketing Jennifer Storms. “But he is also a shining example to peers and aspiring young athletes of what a leader and a student-athlete should be. He represents everything we hope for in a Gatorade Runner of the Year recipient.”

The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track & field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport. The selection process is administered by ESPN RISE and the Gatorade high school sports leadership team, which work with top sport-specific experts and a media advisory board of accomplished, veteran prep sports journalists to determine the state winners in each sport.