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European Experience Brought to Canes XC

European Experience Brought to Canes XC

by Ashleigh Young

Daphnee Lavassas cannot live without running.

It is a love that began at the age of six due to her energy and love of sports. Trying everything from dancing, horseback riding, swimming and tennis to her eventual passion – endurance running – Lavassas has been hooked ever since.

The Miami native moved to Greece when she was only a few months old because her parents wanted a European education for their daughter. What she got next was an abundance of success in distance running on both the local and national level.

It all began when she tried out for her local club team in Greece and caught the attention of Thomas Iakovakis and Kyriakos Moutesidis.

“She didn’t talk or walk with the other little kids, she would just run,” Moutesidis said. “Having done steeplechase and endurance myself, I could tell that she was different and had potential. I went to talk to her mother and said, ‘I will make your daughter a champion, otherwise I’ll tear my degree’. What left an impression on me was that she was fearless.”

Lavassas credits her early success to her two Greek coaches having done everything in their power to make her successful.

“I’m eternally grateful for everything they’ve done for me,” she said. “They helped me as an athlete, but also as a person and I can’t thank them enough for that. We found success together.”

There is no doubt about that.

Lavassas holds the U18 Panhellenic Indoor Track and Field record in the 3000m with a time of 9:58.64. She has represented Greece on both the U18 and U20 teams in both the 3000m and 5000m races. She finished third twice in the Balkan U18 3000m race and competed in the U20 European Cross Country race in the 5000m finishing in the top 20 in 2019.

“Daphnee is a very talented athlete and I believe that with hard work and the professionalism that distinguishes her, but also her fighting spirit, she will develop athletically in the coming years,” Iakovakis said. “I hope that she will be distinguished in international athletics and major events in long distance running hope she becomes an Olympic level athlete to represent Greece and her university in the best way.”

After all her success in Greece, Lavassas wants to bring success to her community in Coral Gables and to Miami’s distance team. With the likes of second year cross country coach Cody Halsey, a young team and new recruits, Lavassas believes in all the possibilities and growth for her new team.

“We have a big opportunity to do something great here. I’m not alone in it; I’ll do my best, but everyone is really excited for the season,” she said. “We’re going to come out stronger and whoever doesn’t, I’ll be there to encourage them.”

It is her determination that has made her so successful in the past. She is a go-getter, an ‘actions speak louder than words’ type of person, who would rather show you her performances than just tell you what she is able to accomplish.

Her motto has always been, “I want to be the best that I can be.” The limits to her success are unknown. All she wants to do every time she trains or competes is improve.

That hasn’t been easy for Lavassas to do since she arrived at UM late in the fall. Dealt an injury early after her arrival to the cross country team, she hasn’t raced since 2019 back in Greece. Just as she was about to begin her career and compete for the first time as a Cane during the outdoor track and field season, COVID-19 hit.

“It was heartbreaking. I was just starting to get back and then our season was done,” Lavassas said. “There has definitely been an improvement for me psychologically [though], because I have had to wait so long until my next race. I’ve grown stronger and have had a lot of time to think and I’ve realized that every time I think I can’t possibly want it more or every time something like this happens, like setbacks, I think about it and how much I want to surpass myself and be as best as I can possibly be.”

Her drive hasn’t gone unnoticed by those around her, especially coach Halsey.

“Daphnee is going to be successful because she wants to be successful. She’ll do whatever it takes to aid in those dreams,” Halsey said. “I think she believes and trusts that I’m going to do everything I can to help her reach those goals and achieve her dreams and I am going to do everything I can to help her do that.”

When the time comes for her to compete, Lavassas will be ready. Not only physically, but mentally, having competed in bigger European races. Halsey feels that exposure will prove to be a huge advantage in races and meets like ACC Championships, NCAA Regionals and Championships.

Lavassas believes that her attitude of always wanting to be better gives her a leg up on some of her competition.

Only time will tell.

With all her success, coach Halsey is excited to see what Lavassas will bring to the young and growing cross country program.

“She’s incredibly driven and I think she’s going to be a fantastic addition to our cross country team,” Halsey said. “She brings a lot of amazing qualities and I think she’s going to elevate the entire team as a whole and that’s what you want in these athletes because it’s a team sport. I’m really excited to see what she can do here at the U not only in cross country, but also indoor and outdoor track.”