HUNTERSVILLE – The worst thing Lake Norman Charter’s Matt Panza could see in a cross-country race was an opponent ahead of him. So he often did his best to prevent that.

Panza, a senior, led a deep Knights squad that ranked among North Carolina’s best.

He strung together a season’s worth of strong performances earning The Herald Weekly’s Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year for the second consecutive time.

“I would say his biggest strength is that he does not like to lose to anyone,” Lake Norman Charter coach Craig Zamiara said. “He went into every meet with the intention of winning regardless of the competition. Even if he knew a couple of the other runners in a race had posted a faster time than him, he had the mindset to stick with them for the first mile and then try to hang on as long as possible.”

Panza won the Big South 2A/3A conference meet Oct. 16 in 16 minutes, 26 seconds, well ahead of runner-up (and teammate) Nathan Kemper (16:54).

Panza covered the 5,000-meter course in 16:23 at the N.C. Class 2A West Regional to finish as runner-up to Maiden High’s Corbin Boyles. He also ran a personal-best 16:15 at the Frosh/Sophomore Invitational on Oct. 12 at Beeson Park and finished 12th at the Wendy’s Invitational’s 3A division race. The time also was a school record.

He capped the season by finishing seventh in the N.C. Class 2A championship meet with a time of 16:30.

“As for Matt's season, he was more driven this year than any other,” Zamiara said. “While he did want to do well in years past, this season he put in more work and effort to reach the level that he did. In addition to putting in more miles and quality speed sessions, he attended a camp up at Appalachian State and at Penn (University). Matt definitely showed a lot more determination and it did pay off.”

Panza led a deep Lake Norman Charter team that finished fourth in the N.C. 2A championship meet. Last year, as a junior, he was sixth in the 1A final. Lake Norman Charter moved up a classification because of its enrollment.

“Getting an athlete to calm themselves down and not become mental during a race is the biggest obstacle,” Zamiara said. “Matt has done a great job at controlling this aspect of running and that is one reason why he has been in our varsity squad for three years and also becoming our top runner for two straight years. There is not much that can alter him the day of the meet.”


Herald Weekly 2013 Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year

Craig Zamiara’s cross-country team proved it is a contender no matter the level. The Knights finished fourth (among 16 teams) at the Class 2A state championship meet, a year after finishing second at the 1A meet. Lake Norman Charter moved one class in the state’s reclassification, based on enrollment.

He is The Herald Weekly’s Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year. The Knights had five runners among the top 39 at the state meet and each finished with times of 17:26 or better. Zamiara’s squad also finished second among 16 teams at the N.C. 2A West Regional and won the Big South 2A conference championship in its first year competing in the conference.