Cross-country teams find their footing
By Shawn Gakhal
Samuel Vazquez, head coach of the Roosevelt Lakers’ cross country teams, recognizes what it takes to make it in the sport. After all, he competed in the 2012 Olympic games in London, representing Puerto Rico in the 1,500 meters competition.
With the knowledge and experience that Vasquez gained there, he said he hopes to impart his knowledge to his players so they can achieve their dreams, too.
A dedication to training, practice regimens and nutrition all played a part in Vasquez’s successful career. Now, they play a vital role in the young hearts and minds of bright-eyed Laker runners.
Still, that doesn’t stop the public masses from adhering to the common misconceptions of cross-country.
“That’s probably the biggest difference in running, track and field, and cross country,” Vazquez said. “We don’t have records, [so] that kind of changes our goals. Whereas in men’s basketball, here at Roosevelt, they need to build a record to make it in tournaments. For us, it’s all about getting to the conference [tournaments] at the end of the year, performing well there, and, hopefully, moving on to nationals. The three months of racing before conference is basically just preparation for the tournaments.”
Vazquez spoke candidly about last Friday’s match in Peoria, Ill., at the Bradley Classic where Freshman Travis Neidel (43rd/28:09) and Alena Pacheco (47th: 25:07) finished with squad-best marks in their respective races, despite challenging circumstances.
“It wasn’t our best race,” Vazquez said. “It was about a three-hour ride there, [and] we kind of made a mistake with our time management and didn’t notice that the race schedule was switched around. So there was a little confusion when the men were racing and when the women were racing. [We also] didn’t warm up properly, because it was a cold day. They did the best they could. Some people almost set personal records. Given the circumstances, that was a pretty good performance for us.”
Freshman cross country runner Troy Harness echoed his coach’s sentiment about the time mismanagement that took place at the race.
“It was colder than usual,” Harness said. “The one thing that kind of affected our race was the last-minute time for our races. Usually, when we show up and get ready, we rest up quick and relax. When we got there, we realized that they switched the girls’ race and the guys’ race, and the girls were supposed to go first …We had to get ready really fast, and not stretch as much, and get into the race.”
Vazquez talked further about the ramifications of the result in Peoria, the mental aspect of cross country and trying to stay focused as a team.
“That race wasn’t what we were shooting for,” he said. “We’re shooting for the conference meet. Mentally, [it] is the hardest part with this team, trying to stay focused and understanding that, yeah, you are tired, but bad races are going to happen. We have to stick to the schedule and hope that we’ll have our legs when we need it.”
Harness stressed what it takes to get better as a team.
“We’re doing really good at the workouts,” he said. “We’re getting stronger and everything. We need to perform in the races. One of the things we have to work on is using what we learn in the workouts in the races.”
Vazquez expressed optimism for the future of both of the teams.
“We have a small team right now, so obviously, the goal is to have this team grow,” he said. “We’ll have a large team, hopefully. I want them to be competitive in the country, just like any other coach here. We want our teams to be one of the best in the national stage and conference stage …When you’re changing training regimens, it takes close to a year to get used to it and they’ve only been doing it for, maybe, three to four months. A lot of them have bettered their times, which is great. Obviously, next year, they’re just going to be that much better. And expectation is going to be higher, so everything should play a key role.”
For Coach Vazquez and the cross country teams, this is only the beginning of their sporting journeys. Vazquez has his eye pegged on the CCAC Championships hosted by CCSJ in Valparaiso, Ind. Nov. 9.
“Our goals for Roosevelt cross country’s men’s and women’s team is to perform well at the conference meet,” Vazquez said. “Basically, the top 15 individuals in that race will continue on to the national championship or the top team. And our conference [NAIA] is probably one of the hardest conferences in the entire nation. We have three really solid teams, all ranked in the top 15. So we have our work cut out for us. We’re a young team, and so we’re just trying to gain experience as best we can.”