Chicago, IL (January 14, 2016) — In its 31st year of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes, The Gatorade Company, in collaboration with USA TODAY High School Sports, today announced Weini Kelati of Heritage High School as its 2015-16 Gatorade Virginia Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. Kelati is the first Gatorade Virginia Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year to be chosen from Heritage High School.
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 Kelati as Virginia’s best high school girls cross country runner. Now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year award to be announced in January, Kelati joins an elite alumni association of past state awardwinners in 12 sports, including Ryan Hall (1999-00, 2000-01, Big Bear HS, Calif.), Derek Jeter (1991-92, Kalamazoo HS, Mich.), Candace Parker (2001-02, Naperville Central HS, Ill.), Abby Wambach (1997-98, Our Lady of Mercy, N.Y.) and Mark Sanchez (2004-05, Mission Viejo HS, Calif.).
The 5-foot junior won the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships national title with a time of 17:09.7, despite running with a leg injury. Kelati also won the Group 4A state title in 17:22, leading the Lions to the state championship as a team. She was undefeated in 2015, setting course records in four of her eight races, including at the Third Battle Invitational, where her time of 16:29 was the fastest 5K ever recorded by a girl at an in-state race.
Kelati has maintained a 3.20 GPA in the classroom. A native of Eritrea in northeast Africa, she has volunteered locally on behalf of multiple community-service initiatives in association her church.
“Weini is such a positive, resilient young lady who has been through some big changes since coming to the United States,” said Joan Hunter, co-head coach of Loudoun Valley High School. “After some initial adjustment to so many new things, Weini has really started to thrive. I think her ability to persevere through difficult life changes makes her incredibly mentally tough, which certainly translates to her racing and training.” Kelati will begin her senior year of high school this fall.
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 the Gatorade high school sports leadership team in partnership with USA TODAY High School Sports, 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.
Gatorade Player of the Year is an athletic awards program that annually recognizes one winner in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia across twelve different sports. A national winner is also chosen in each of the twelve sports. Winners are selected based on athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character. Since its inception 29 years ago, the Gatorade Player of the Year program has become one of the most prestigious high school athletic awards in the nation.
All Gatorade State Players of the Year win a trophy, and their schools also receive a trophy and banner to display. Gatorade National Players of the Year receive an additional trophy and banner and a trip (hotel accommodations and airfare included) to the Gatorade Athlete of the Year Awards dinner and tickets to the ESPY Awards, accompanied by two parents/legal guardians, to be held in Los Angeles, CA.