Severna Park High School's Jake Gelfand now has something in common with former NCAA soccer national champion Drew Yates, NBA power forward Jalen Smith and two-time Olympian Matthew Centrowitz.
Gelfand been named the 2020-2021 Gatorade Maryland Cross Country Player of the Year, joining other athletes who have been ranked as the state’s best in their respective sports.
"I was just ecstatic," Gelfand said of winning the award. "First thing I did was let my parents know and they were really excited. It was just really an honor to get the award.”
The award recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field.
A four-year varsity runner for the Falcons, Gelfand credits a strong support system of family, teammates and coaches for his success.
"It's been a long process," he said. "It's been four years of just grinding with my teammates and having the support system to help me through these last four years. It just shows that if I can surround myself with the right people and I put in the work, the sustained grind can take me to places that I never thought I could go to."
Gelfand has committed to Cornell University, where he will run cross country and track. He has also upheld a weighted GPA of 4.16 in the classroom.
"Cornell's program is really on the rise," he said. "Academically, it's going to be able to challenge me really well. Finding that balance and combination of both those things is really what I was looking for. Ithaca is a beautiful place and I love that too."
Juggling two- and three-hour practices plus the rigors of AP courses wasn't easy, but Gelfand believes he and his teammates banded together with their shared workload and that was vital to their collective athletic and academic success.
“I was just so happy for him,” said Josh Alcombright, head cross country coach at Severna Park. “Jake is a fighter, he's a worker, he's so easily coachable. He does everything that you ask, above and beyond.”
Due to the pandemic, Gelfand competed in only three races as a senior during a condensed spring season, where he won all three races. As a junior, running as an individual, Gelfand went undefeated against in-state competition and won the Virginia Elite Invitational.
"He's one of those guys who will always do the little things right," said Carson Sloat, a senior and cross country teammate. "He leads by example with these things and makes sure that the rest of the team is staying dedicated as well."
In the fall, Sloat will attend the U.S. Naval Academy and reunite with former Falcon runner Garrison Clark on the cross country and track teams.
As a part of the Severna Park cross country team, service work around the county has been stressed to the athletes. Gelfand and his teammates have donated their time by operating water stations at local races, as well as packing care packages for the homeless.
Gelfand has volunteered time with RISE for Autism, a Glen Burnie-based nonprofit that strives to improve awareness, acceptance and understanding of autism.
"It opened my eyes to the world around me, that everyone is different, and you have to be accepting and understand that," Gelfand said.
Gelfand is one of four children. His parents, Jeffrey Gelfand and Christina Morganti, both ran cross country. His older brother, Kasey, a 2016 graduate of Severna Park, also ran for the Falcons.
"They are always so supportive. If it means going to a meet to watch, they are always there in a heartbeat," Jake Gelfand said about his family.
Gelfand becomes the second Severna Park cross country athlete to win the Gatorade Player of the Year award, joining Ryan Forsyth, who received the honor in 2013.
More information about the Gatorade Player of the Year award can be found at www.playeroftheyear.gatorade.com.