Best friends since Day 1, Brunswick High cross country standouts Mia Colucci and Dalton Pender signed letters-of-intent together Tuesday in front of a crowd in the school’s auditorium.
Colucci moved from Greenville, S.C., to Brunswick ahead of her junior year of high school — a move she originally wasn’t thrilled about. Pender made the move from Pierce County to Brunswick around the same time as his father Sean took the job as the Pirates’ head football coach.
But before signing, after both runners took a moment to think her parents, coaches and teammates, they each acknowledged the significance the other has had in their respective lives.
Fewer than two years ago, neither runner would have thought they’d be sitting next to their best friend as they inked college LOIs to run cross country.
“I never would have expected that,” Colucci said. “I moved here and I was super sad, because I loved my old school, I loved where I was at. So I kind of wanted to dislike it here, but everybody kind of made it hard.
“I love my teammates, I love my coaches, and I’m super blessed to say that they got me to where I’m at now.”
Pender added: “I was very grateful to be signing with her, because like she said, even though I was her first best friend, she was mine, and we’ve been stick together ever since. Through cross country, we both became leaders and captains of the team.
“I’ve very proud of her. I’m proud of myself. I feel like we have definitely grown since then.”
It was clear by the size of the crowd in attendance for the signing that both runners have endeared themselves to the community at Brunswick High School.
A member of the school’s chapter of the One-Act team, Pender also took a moment to support some of the club members in the audience by inviting the crowd out to watch “School House Rock Live,” which will run in the auditorium from May 2-4.
“A lot of them came out in support of us and I thought that was awesome, so I was just throwing it out there because I’m going to be in that,” Pender said. “I’m not much of a singer, but I have to be this time, so that should be interested.”
Singing may be new for Pender, but cross country has been a constant since middle school and into his time at Pierce County, where he also began running track. As a senior, he won the Region 2-6A cross country meet in one of three victories in a season in which he set a personal record of 17:06.
Colucci didn’t start running cross country until she moved to Brunswick as a junior, but having run track and field previously, she figured the sports were similar.
“Cross country is just a lot muddier,” Colucci said with a laugh.
Her confidence has proven to be warranted as she went on to notch three first-place finishes and set a PR of 21:19 in a senior season that saw her come back from an injury to race in the region meet.
Although the two have become close friends over the past two years, their paths will soon diverge.
Pender announced he would attend Valdosta State after looking into his father’s alma matter and finding a school with good education and business programs, as well as a competitive cross country team. Colucci decided on Georgia Southern based on the relationship she’s formed with her future coaches and teammates.
“(Assistant coach Wesley Penberthy) sought me out really early, and he made it a point to keep seeking me out, keep talking to me,” Colucci said. “I felt really cared for. I visited the campus and I just really enjoyed the feel that it gave off.
“I met the girls on the team and I really liked that. It just felt right.”