Freshman Kevin Mendez ’22 and junior Tsion Yared ’20 are three-time state championship titleholders for diving and cross country, respectively.
Kevin is one of 13 divers in Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) history to have won three consecutive state diving titles. Kevin is the youngest diver to do so, winning his first title as a seventh grade student in 2016. His win this year gives the 1A State Championship diving title to Pine Crest School for six years in a row.
This year has been an incredible year for Tsion, who had the opportunity for the second time to compete at the Nike Cross Country National race in Portland, Oregon as one of two runners to qualify from Florida. She was also named the 2019 Gatorade Florida Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Tsion is one of only 15 girls to have won three or more cross country state championships in FHSAA history.
Kevin has been diving since he was five years old.
“I was learning how to swim when I was three years old,” said Kevin. “I saw the diving boards and I wanted to try them, but I had to wait until I was five. What I love is the feeling of being in the air and going through the water and the feeling afterward of completing the dive.”
Tsion has been running with her mom since she was 10.
“I started running competitively in fifth grade,” said Tsion. “I have always been running. My mom is a runner, and I started running with her as a kid.”
For these two student-athletes, discipline and time management are critical to getting their workouts and their homework done.
“It’s hard,” said Kevin. “I stay up until around 11:30 p.m. to make sure I get everything done. I work in the car when I am going to and from practice. It is hard, but I get it done. This is what I love about Pine Crest, the education. The courses are challenging, but I am being prepared for what is next in life. I have opportunities to succeed.”
As a junior, Tsion has had some more time to refine her study schedule.
“My time management has gotten better, although my workload has gotten more intense,” said Tsion. “Now, I balance school work and preparing for testing. I have learned to utilize my weekends more, and my free periods are key. I base my training schedule around when I need to study.”
“Balance is more important than ever this year,” Tsion continued. “Running helps me be proactive about my studying because I know I want to get a good grade, and I need the right amount of sleep to perform well.”
Both Kevin and Tsion have strict workout regimens to keep them in top shape.
“I work out three times a week in the weightroom,” said Kevin. “I am in the pool and the diving board six times a week for three hours, and once a week I take a stretching class.”
Before a competition, Kevin trains following the meet format, practicing from a list of dives. “I eat the same meals all week, so there are no food surprises,” said Kevin.
As a two-sport student-athlete — cross country and track and field — training for Tsion varies depending on the time of the year. During the cross country season, “I get to school at 6:00 a.m. and lift in the weightroom and use the bike for 35 minutes,” said Tsion. “Twice a week, I follow the regimen that Coach Hibbs creates for the team. After school, we practice from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. On ‘hard’ days, we are on the track doing interval workouts, and on recovery days, we run and utilize the track and west campus. On Saturdays, we run on the beach in Fort Lauderdale from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.”
On winning a third consecutive state title, Kevin said, “I don’t take it lightly. It is not easy to accomplish, and I don't intend to stop working hard.”
“It has been humbling knowing that the hard work paid off,” said Tsion. “It is hard to see it coming together because we start training so early, at the beginning of the summer. There is a sense of relief when everything is working out.”
Tsion is also a two-time state champion in the 3200-meter race for track.
“Track meets are a different atmosphere,” said Tsion. “Meets are a whole day event — you run your race, and the sprinters cheer for you. In between races, you get to relax and cheer on your teammates. I am looking forward to the upcoming season because we have sprinters and field events, so our team is bigger. I am also excited to participate in big track meets, we might possibly go to Virginia for an indoor meet, and for outdoor we may go to California so I am excited for those trips.”
The secret to their success? “Don't be obsessed about your sport,” said Kevin. “Do other things so you don’t get sick of it and burn yourself out.”
Tsion has two secrets.
“I pay a lot of attention to details,” said Tsion. “I have learned that doing the small things makes a big impact, like making sure I am getting eight or more hours of sleep, and using my time wisely.”
Part two of her success, “I drink tart cherry juice as an anti-inflammatory!” said Tsion. “Before races, I always listen to the same playlist to get into the zone and get motivated.”
Kevin and Tsion participate in other activities outside of their sports.
“I work at a homeless shelter,” said Kevin. “I am on the board of Joshua’s Heart Foundation, which is an organization that helps feed those in need.”
“I am a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes,”said Tsion. “I also play the piano and the percussion in the School band. I have been playing the piano since I was seven years old and the percussion since fifth grade.”
“What I love about Pine Crest is the challenge that School presents us with,” said Tsion. “I am always up for a challenge, and I think that pushes us to want more. The students here are competitive, and sometimes that atmosphere can be stressful, but it pushes us to be better students and strive for more.”
While Kevin and Tsion feel the challenges of being student-athletes, they are not alone.
“I don’t have enough words to say about what Coach Janet Gabriel [Head Diving Coach] has done for me,” said Kevin. “She is an amazing person. She is very involved in making people better; she is selfless and caring.”
“Coach Baur [Cross Country and Track and Field Program Head] has been a mentor for me,” said Tsion. “He has coached me since I was in fifth grade and has made me the runner that I am today. He knows how to push us to our limits during every single workout, cross country meet, or track meet.”
“It is easy to progress as a person when you have help from basically everyone at Pine Crest, coaches, faculty, and administrators. Pine Crest is a friendly environment, and you know that everyone here wants the best for you.”