Prep cross country preview: Monona Grove’s James Giftos is healthy and primed for a big finish

August 28, 2018
Monona Grove's James Giftos, shown running to a 13th-place finish in the 2017 WIAA Division 1 state cross country meet, is back for more for this, his senior season.

It seems apparent that senior Monona Grove cross country runner James Giftos has a genetic predisposition to move around.

The top returning finisher from the Silver Eagles team that placed fourth in last year’s WIAA Division 1 state meet, Giftos has followed in the footsteps of his mother, Mindy.

A marathoner, Mindy brought James along everywhere she ran — and, naturally, he wanted to lace up his running shoes as soon as possible.

“I started running 5Ks (5,000-meters) as soon as I could,” Giftos said. “I wanted to start when I was around 8, but everyone said I was too young.”

He reached an early peak when he talked Reed Anderson, a fellow senior and Silver Eagles team leader, into running a half-marathon (13.1 miles) around their eighth-grade year.

“Ryan said ‘yes’ and we’ve been training partners ever since,” Giftos said with a laugh.

Behind Giftos and Anderson, Badger South Conference champion Monona Grove is aiming for another strong season.

The urgency is especially important for Giftos. He missed a good chunk of the 2017 cross country season after a foot injury cropped up — not long after a sensational sophomore year.

Giftos could not run until October 2017, but his fitness was sound because he had dedicated himself to aqua-running in the school pool.

“He was there every day,” coach Jeremy Duss said. “He had to spend at least 100 hours in the pool. He just didn’t wasn’t to lose the season.”

“I think it was about 200 (hours),” Giftos said. “And boy, did it get a little dull.”

But the work paid off. Behind Anderson and Giftos, the Silver Eagles cruised to the South title. Then at state, Giftos led the way with a 13th-place individual finish in a field of 189 runners.

After a solid track season, Giftos — along with fellow senior returnees Anderson, Eddie Gnewuch and Caden Nelson — are taking aim at another strong season. And they’ll get help from Giftos’ talented younger brother, Jake, who is ready to make a splash.

“We’re very excited,” James Giftos said. “Last year we had a bunch of injuries, but we pulled it together. This year will be harder because they shifted us into a different (WIAA qualifying) sectional with (defending state champion) Middleton and Madison West, but we have some strong newcomers.”

He and Anderson have led many strong captains’ practices in preparation for the formal start of practice on Aug. 13 and Duss said James’ Giftos’ motor is running hot.

“James has become all business,” said Duss. “He just loves running.”

“I’m ready to go,” James Giftos laughed. “My feet are all fixed up, I trusted what the coaches told me and now I’m back.”