Kearny sophomore Felix a rising cross country star

Wins novice championship at Passaic County Coaches meet; leads Kards to team title

Photo by Jim Hague/ Kearny sophomore Dania Felix holds the team trophy after she led the Kardinals to the novice team championship at the Passaic County Coaches Invitational meet at Garret Mountain last Saturday. Felix won the race, her first cross country victory.


By Jim Hague

Dania Felix is more than just a rising star for the Kearny High School cross country team.
The talented sophomore is also an accomplished musician. She plays the tuba.
That’s right, when she’s not running through hill and dale for the Kards, she’s a member of the school’s marching band, playing second tuba.
“I played the drums in eighth grade, but when I got to high school, I saw the tuba and I was impressed,” Felix said. “It just caught my eye and I wanted to play it. In fact, I became obsessed with the tuba.”
Over the summer, Felix participated in band camp with the rest of the Kearny band.
“We played every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” Felix said. “We practiced drills and learned more about music. I feel like I’m getting very good at it. I can actually teach others to play now. I’ve gotten a lot better.”
But make no bones about it. Felix’s future is with her feet. And it’s definitely a bright future at that.
“I’m definitely a better runner than a tuba player,” Felix admits.
Felix first tried out for the cross country team last fall, but had a tough season, suffering through some injuries and personal commitments.
“I had shin splints last year and that was painful,” Felix said.
“We knew that she was a very talented kid,” veteran Kearny cross country coach Jim Cifelli said. “We also knew that she had her commitments to the band.”
However, this year, Felix came back and was better than ever. She was also able to juggle her schedule better.
“I feel like I’m better and stronger than ever,” Felix said. “I was so looking forward to running this year. I have a better mindset now. I have better stamina now.”
Cifelli didn’t want to throw Felix and the rest of his talented sophomore group into the varsity waters to start the season, so he looked for events that best suited his young team.
“It’s a very talented group,” Cifelli said. “They’re also fun to work with. Dania is the superior runner of the group. I told them at the beginning of the year that they needed to learn a little more about the sport, that if they trained hard, practiced hard and ran hard and ran as a team, they could be something special.”
Cifelli took the young group to the prestigious and competitive Passaic County Coaches Invitational meet last Saturday at Garret Mountain in Woodland Park. He entered the team in the novice race (junior varsity) to see how they would fare.
Felix had no idea how she would do in the race.
“I was hoping that I could maybe break 21 (minutes),” Felix said. “But it was only the second meet of the year, so I wasn’t sure.”
Cifelli believed that Felix could have a breakout performance.
“I figured Dania could be in the top three,” Cifelli said.
She did better than that. She won the race in 22:36.60, on a day where one could cut the humidity with a knife and where the course was somewhat muddy from Friday’s hard rainfall.
“I thought my time was good and I felt strong,” Felix said. “I felt really good at the end of the race, like I just had started the race, so that was good. I was hoping to get first place, because I never won a first place medal before.”
Felix has one now, because she bested the field by more than 11 seconds.
For her efforts, Felix has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Felix wasn’t the only Kardinal runner to do well. Teammate Wendy Carranza was second to Felix in 22:47.29. Fellow Kearny sophomore Erika Alzamora was fourth and Maria Davila was in 10th overall, leading the Kards to the overall team title, defeating solid cross country schools like Morris Knolls and Randolph in the process.
Cifelli is not surprised with Felix’s performance.
“She’s been very interested in the sport and extremely coachable,” Cifelli said. “She’s also been very dedicated. Her work ethic is outstanding. She’s the leader in the workouts and I’ve been trying to get the others to stay with her. Everything is working off Dania right now. They’re working off her.”
Needless to say, these sophomores and especially Felix represent the future of Kearny cross country.
“She has a bright future,” Cifelli said. “That being said, we all hope that she does the right things and continues on the right path. If she does the right things, she can have a great career. She’s a smart kid. She’s getting there. I think she has a chance to be very special.”
Cifelli is ready to unleash his prized crop of sophomores, including Felix, on the rest of the world next week. They will compete in the Brett Taylor Invitational at Darlington Park in Mahwah on the varsity level.
“I thought we needed to build some egos a little,” Cifelli said. “The plan was always to run Brett Taylor, because it’s more of a local meet.”
Whatever the race, Felix will be there.
“I think I’m ready,” Felix said. “I’m excited about it. This (Passaic County) was a good confidence booster for all of us. It really helps a lot that we won. I know I don’t want to sound cocky, but the whole team is getting good and this was just a start. I’m so excited. I know I have a lot of room for improvement. I’m just happy to show what I can do right now.”
And Felix is also still playing her tuba. It would be interesting to see if she could run 3.1 miles while playing the tuba.
“That’s not going to happen,” Felix laughed. “Now, that would really be a story.”
Felix loves being able to juggle both passions.
“I like being able to do both,” Felix said. “I love the tuba and I love running. I love the tuba just as much as I love running and running now is like my whole entire life.”
It sounds like the youngster is playing a happy tune right now, although it’s hard to think of the tuba as a happy instrument.

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