Amherst’s Tamar Byl-Brann named Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff writer

Published: 01-02-2023 11:29 AM

Amherst’s cross country program has a long and storied history. Its one of the schools in the area that has been able to cultivate sustained success, with many impressive athletes leaving their mark.

Even so, it’s rare that athletes like Tamar Byl-Brann come through. Now a senior, Byl-Brann has gone from a quiet, shy freshman with unlimited potential to a confident, speedy upperclassman ... who still has unlimited potential.

“I still don’t think she’s hit her ceiling,” Amherst head coach Ron Jacobs said. “Last year, toward the end of the season, she was starting to show the potential that we saw in her as a freshman, and a lot of it was just focus and confidence and consistent, consistent work….the big shift was really from that point forward. I think she just totally invested in her running and in the program.”

The cross country world was fully introduced to Byl-Brann last year, when she picked up a top five finish at the 2A Divisional race and was 16th overall at the MIAA Division II All-State meet. Those accolades earned her last year’s Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year award, and her improved performances this year earned her the honor for the second consecutive season.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Byl-Brann — like everyone in her senior class, her high school career was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic; her sophomore year was an unusual one, where the team practiced in small pods and rarely got to race. On top of that, Byl-Brann also struggled with injuries.

“She had a lot of injuries her sophomore year. Her ankles were just not very strong, and so it seemed like every time we would run on grass ... she would injure her ankle and so she wasn’t able to train very consistently,” Jacobs said. “I think that whole year was really difficult for her. She kind of lost that year, as did a lot of them.”

Coming into her junior year, Byl-Brann slowly settled back into a running routine, growing in confidence and dropping her times consistently. After seeing what she could do in big races, Byl-Brann doubled down on her training. She approached Jacobs and asked him to help her organize winter workouts to prepare for track season, and after those paid dividends in the summer of 2022, worked with him to create summer workouts as well.

“I was only ever working with Ron, he was always a times and statistics guy,” Byl-Brann said. “I’ve had a lot of coaches because I did soccer, but he’s definitely in the top three at least. I think he has a really good style of coaching for me and a lot of my teammates because he lets us have personality and goof off and have fun with him and each other, but he’s also serious and cares really deeply about our training and our times. I think that balance worked really well for me.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Shutesbury Elementary School principal leaving in June after 10 years
Three Amherst Regional Middle School counselors absolved of Title IX offenses
Amherst regional superintendent candidate stresses inclusion, broad expertise
Jena Schwartz: Things I have not said
Next 5-story building cleared to rise in downtown Amherst
Residents seek to balance intersection upgrades with preservation of Sunderland character

When she broke 20 minutes in her first race of the season, a time she didn’t hit until the middle of her junior year, Byl-Brann knew her extra commitment was paying off. Even so, she still underestimated just how fast she could go, something her coach made sure to talk to her about before races.

“I think she still doesn’t really realize how good she is ….we have a chat, usually on the bus to the meet, where she wants to talk about her race plan. Before the divisional meet, she was going in there thinking, ‘If I have a good day, maybe I can be fifth in the race’ and I’m like, ‘Tamar, I don’t think there’s anybody in this race, maybe one person, who can run with you,’” Jacobs said. “It’s kind of funny to watch her start to get that confidence. Learning to believe in yourself, that takes time.”

It’s still a work in progress, but anyone watching her can see that Byl-Brann believes in herself and her running ability now. She believes in her teammates, too — this was one of Amherst’s most successful cross country seasons to date, with a deep group of runners that had a tight-knit bond together.

“We’ve had a lot of good runners come through this program. But even at a program like Amherst, it’s only — if you’re lucky — every four or five years that you get an athlete like Tamar,” Jacobs said. “She’ll be one that that people remember and talk about as one of the really great Amherst runners.”

FIRST TEAM ALL-STARS

Molly Bail, senior, Belchertown

Kathleen Barry, eighth grade, Hampshire

Tamar Byl-Brann, senior, Amherst

Leah Gump, junior, Frontier

Abigail Howard, senior, Frontier

Maeve O’Neil, Northampton

Norah Reade, Northampton, senior

Elizabeth Sawicki, sophomore, Amherst

April Schilling, Amherst, senior

Anna Zamer, senior, Northampton

SECOND TEAM ALL-STARS

Caprial DiBartolomeo, freshman, Hopkins Academy

ElliaMasenior, senior, Hampshire

Tess Geis-Benton, sophomore, Northampton

Lily Zamer, senior, Northampton

Sicily Chase, freshman, Hampshire

Isla Cusick, sophomore, Amherst

Claire Kennedy, freshman, Amherst

Sylvie DiBartolomeo, sophomore, Frontier

Bianca Peura, senior, Frontier

Nicole Plasse, junior, Frontier

Amelia Perry, freshman, Hampshire

HONORABLE MENTION

Marisol Bonifaz, sophomore, Amherst

Keegan Butler, freshman, Hampshire

Natalie Dunlap, eighth grade, Hampshire

Sarah Fardal, sophomore, PVCICS

Alexandra Henrichon, freshman, Gateway

Sasha Malo, sophomore, Frontier

Elizabeth McDonough, senior, Northampton

Anya Niles, eighth grade, Gateway

Charlotte Shimpach, freshman, Northampton

Kami Wlodyka, junior, Belchertown

Eliza Zimmermann, freshman, Amherst

]]>