In a team huddle before the 3,200-meter run last Friday at the Northern Region outdoor track and field championship meet, those associated with the Centreville distance program practically assaulted the name of one of its top members, junior Yazid Zouaimia.
But Zouaimia, accustomed to such butchery, didn’t say anything -- at least until he made another name for himself on the track.
In 9 minutes, 29.48 seconds, Zouaimia passed Herndon’s Todd Van Luling, won his first region title and joined a conversation. Because in an area that boasts such talented distance runners as Chris Foley (Chantilly), Jared Berman (Robinson) and Kevin Dowd (Fairfax), there’s now another name, even if it’s hard to say, to add to that list.
“Yazid has improved a lot this year,” said Wildcats coach Kelley Devlin. “Each race he gets better and better. He just has a great sense of humor. He makes the guys laugh out on the track all the time. His intensity is admired, but at the same time it’s kinda funny because everybody loves him.”
To be clear, Zouaimia’s name is pronounced YAY-zeed ZWAY-me-ah. Not the YAH-zeed version that was chanted by his teammates or the ZOO-a-me-ah version that was carved up into pieces by a reporter. But Zouaimia just laughs. With a remarkable sense of humor, the converted soccer player keeps his team loose and makes his coach laugh, insisting that she’s the one and only source for his inspiration.
<b>ZOUAIMIA</b> grew up in Algeria and moved to the United States when he was 3. After living in Maryland and Washington, D.C. for about an eight-year span, Zouaimia’s family found the Centreville area in 2000. Entering high school, Zouaimia had no other goal than to score a few of them on the soccer field.
He played two years of soccer for Centreville as a midfielder and a striker but excelled at neither. And during the fall of his sophomore year, as a way to improve his fitness, Zouaimia took up cross country, finishing ninth in the Concorde District and 15th in the Northern Region during that 2007 campaign.
Zouaimia competed in indoor track and field during his freshman year but decided against during his sophomore campaign. As a junior, for the first time, Zouaimia has competed in all three seasons.
Last week at the Concorde District outdoor track and field championships, which were held Thursday and Friday, May 14-15 at Westfield High School, Zouaimia set a personal-best mark in the 1,600 with his third-place time of 4:19.18 and finished third in the 3,200. To ensure the best possible finish for the 3,200 last Friday, Zouaimia was scratched from the 1,600.
“I was pretty competitive in soccer, but in track I was doing so much better,” Zouaimia said. “I was really inspired by seeing my times go down, so I made the switch over to track.”
“I think the best is yet to come,” added Devlin. “He’s a rising star on the distance scene in the state.”
<b>ALTERED FOR</b> Hollywood or not, there’s a line in the 1997 movie “Prefontaine” where Oregon track and field coach Bill Bowerman and the film’s star (portrayed by Jared Leto) argue. Leto’s character, Steve Prefontaine, wants to run the mile -- track’s perceived glory event. Bowerman, to his star runner’s chagrin, sees “Pre” as a 3-miler.
So Bowerman, after his runner’s insistence that nobody cares about the 3-mile race, retorts, “So why don’t you give them a reason to care?”
In the outdoor season, Zouaimia ran the 3,200 once before the Lake Braddock Hall of Fame Invitational on April 17-18. Devlin tried to convince Zouaimia that he was built for the 3,200 run but he disagreed, insisting time and again that he wasn’t any good. Turns out, Zouaimia posted a personal-best time of 9:25.66 at Lake Braddock for the Centreville school record.
“Yazid’s a tough competitor and one of the most talented distance runners to come out of Centreville,” Devlin said. “He’s doing way better for us on the track, and we’d rather he be on the track than the bench.”
Zouaimia slipped an old Centreville soccer T-shirt over his head and shot Devlin a look. Hey, all he wanted was some credit. It’s not that he wasn’t playing. He just wasn’t winning regional titles.
“Or in the field,” Devlin said, correcting herself. “I know the soccer program misses him, but he’s doing well with us.”
<b>IN OTHER ACTION,</b> Centreville’s Dan Grimm placed third in the 1,600 with a time of 4:20.07, while Westfield’s Julian Bellamy was second in the long jump with his leap of 22 feet, 1 1/4 inches. The Centreville boys’ team placed 15th with 19 points, while Westfield was 18th with 13. South Lakes won its second straight region title with 75.5 points.
On the girls’ side, Westfield’s Kaylin Newman finished second in the shot put with her throw of 36-03 3/4. She also placed second in the discus at 107-01. Westfield’s girls’ team was 12th with 25 points. Lake Braddock won its seventh straight region title with 105.50 points.