Gauchos cross-country advance to regionals

Saddleback runner Brody Ray comes into the finish line. (Diana Tomseth/Lariat)

Saddleback runner Brody Ray comes into the finish line. (Diana Tomseth/Lariat)

Saddleback College hosted the Orange Empire Conference Cross Country Championship Thursday morning in Mission Viejo, it is the first time hosting in seven years. In addition to Saddleback, five schools participated in the meet including Riverside City College, Orange
Coast College, Fullerton College, Santa Ana College and Golden West College.

“We rotate hosting responsibilities for each school and this year it’s Saddleback’s responsibility to host the championships,” Dan Clauss, athletics director said.

Saddleback College President Dr. Gregory Anderson came out to support the Gauchos cross-country teams. As the honorary guest, and a former cross-country runner himself, he was excited to be there and fire the starting pistol.

Riverside City College runners dominated the day in both the men’s and women’s divisions, claiming the top overall scores. The Gauchos had a successful day as well. Saddleback’s women’s team followed right behind RCC, finishing with an impressive second overall. The men’s team earned a third-place spot overall. Only the top five teams that qualify, will advance.

“Both teams qualified for the Southern California Regional Championships that will be held next Friday, Nov. 3, in Santa Clarita,” said Matt Sherman, the Saddleback College women’s head coach.

For the women’s cross-country results, RCC runners finished first and third place, with second place coming from an Orange Coast runner.

The women’s teams ran a 5k race, equivalent to 3.1 miles. Saddleback College sophomore Sara Fleming placed fourth overall, with a time of 20 minutes, 1.1 seconds; sophomore Sierra Pilarski finished with 20:21.6, coming in ninth; and freshman Hannah Badger at 21:14, placing 16th place out of 48 women.

“I think I did really well, I really pushed it at the last 800 meters and I was able to pass a couple girls. In cross country, it’s all about your placing relative to anyone else, so I was proud that I did that,” Badger said.

The men’s team ran a 4-mile race. First place went to freshman Enrique Villa and second to sophomore Ricardo Cardenas, both from RCC; in third place was sophomore Eric Jimenez from Santa Ana.

Rounding out the best for Saddleback College were freshman Brody Ray, who finished with a time of 21:55.3, grabbing a 10th place spot, his personal best for the season so far; sophomore Jacob King came in 14th with a time of 22:11.5; and freshman DJ Neumann, who finished 22:23.7.

“I felt pretty strong. I did better than I thought I was going to,” Ray said.

Ray said that crossing the finish line was a relief because he was not sure if any other runners would attempt to pass him. He said he had a fast start that allowed him to saddle his position and then start to catch up to other runners.

To be strong and achieve better performance, runners must prepare themselves ahead of time.

“I got a lot of sleep and made sure I was training hard, … just made sure I was well-recovered coming into it.” Ray said, “We usually just try to carbo-load the night before — eat pasta.”

The runners work hard to train, even visualizing the race they will do. But the closeness between the teammates can help accomplish individual and team goals, as they encourage and push each other.

“I’ve accomplished more and performed better than I ever thought I could. And being part of a team, especially with such a supportive, family-like team, is just so amazing. In how we work together, there’s this feeling that we’re (all) in it to accomplish one thing. I’ve never experienced that kind of level of cooperation and support for something like this,” Badger said.

Although the runners compete as individuals, they encourage one another on the track and try to finish strong. When they each do well, they all do well as a team. Both the women’s and men’s teams have special bonds.

“It was a group effort that stood out today and it’s been that way all season long. We’re very fortunate to have such an amazing group of hard-working student athletes.” Sherman said.