bleedCrimson.net: Who are some of the key returners and newcomers on the men's side?
Meaghan Harkins: We only added one recruited freshman this year, Eric Fenton, whose brother is here, Ryan Fenton. He's a big impact person. He's already running in our top 10, he's making our travel squad. He's probably going to be running in our top seven as we progress to the end of the season. There's a lot of parity on the men's side. He's already come in and working at a high level, adjusting to the change in mileage, adjusting to the longer race distance phenomenally well. It's been a seamless transition. He's made a big impact already.
As far as our returners, most of them are running phenomenally well already. We have two seniors, Kevin Taft and Victor Sanchez, they've trained so hard over the summer and they've come in and they've been in our top five in pretty much every race we've had this year and I expect them to continue being there. Kevin Taft was running over 100 miles a week over the summer and he's continuing to do that now. He's improved every single year but this year especially, his senior year, I know he wants to make it count as does Victor Sanchez. I'm so thrilled with how the two of them are running now.
Additionally Jonah Ruybalid and Ian Ruybalid always two men we can count on and they're certainly not disappointing this year.
bc.net: Coming off of the second place finish at the conference championships last year there was a lot of excitement about the prospects for this year and so far this year the men's team has done quite well and won the Kachina Classic two weekends ago. Last year the men ran really well together as a pack and adding one new runner this year, how was the cohesiveness carried over from last season to this season?
MH: There's always a lot of parity on the men's team so if someone's having a bad day, there's always someone right there to take his place. Last year we had a phenomenal pack. This year we also have a very strong pack but it's a little bit more spread out than it was at times last year. For instance at Paul Short we had around a 17 second spread one through five which was just unbelievable. We haven't come close to doing that this year but I think that's because our front runners have improved pretty significantly so it's going to spread out the gap a little bit. Nonetheless our one through five, our one through seven and one through ten is extremely strong, far stronger than they were last year. With the WAC championships coming, coming in as the favorite with Boise State leaving the conference, there's some pressure there but I think our guys will be able to rise to the challenge.
bc.net: Who are some of the key returners and newcomers on the women's side?
MH: On the women's side we brought in three freshmen recruits, Caroline Lewiecki, Tamara Lementino and Diana Hawk, all from the Albuquerque area, all local girls. Again, it's a small recruiting class but big impact. Tamara Lementino has been our number three or four in every race so far this year, Caroline has been in our top seven and she'll be traveling with us as well. Diana is also running very well. These girls have been able to come in just like Eric and immediately transition and make an impact.
bc.net: On the women's side on of the returnees, obviously you have the Schultz twins who have been running very well since their first day on campus and after last year you wanted to stress having a tighter pack.
MH: The twins every single year they've come in and raised their game and this year is no exception. They're running phenomenally well this year. At the Kachina Classic they were 30 seconds behind Risper Kimaiyo who is one of the top cross country athletes in the country right now. Last year they were a minute behind her at the same race and I think Risper was 4th at the National Championships last year. That just goes to show that they've raised their game again in another big way.
Chelsa McDonnell who has pretty much been our third runner since she was a freshman is right there in that third position. She was sick towards the beginning of the season but is 100 percent coming back at the Kachina Classic and really showed it. Her time was faster than what she'd run there last year even though the course, due to some changes, was a little bit longer. She's running very very well right now.
It's still early in the season right now but I still expect bigger improvements and bigger gains as we progress through the year. The nice thing about the women's team this year, you mentioned the tighter pack, we're starting to have a little bit of parity there as well meaning if someone is having a bad day there's someone right there to step in whereas last year we kind of dropped off precipitously after our fifth girl in a lot of races.
bc.net: A couple of sophomores that raced really well for you last year as freshmen, Samantha Hamilton and Jenna Padilla, what progression have you seen from them this season?
MH: Jenna Padilla is redshirting this year, she had a rough summer in terms of some health issues, nothing serious but wasn't quite able to get in the quality training that she needed to get in over the summer and so that was a decision that she, her parents and myself made together. She is going to be here more than likely five years with her particular major so it was a no-brainer on that front.
Sammie Hamilton, she came in last year and was pretty solid for us but this year, especially at the Kachina Classic, she busted out and was in our top five. She was another one who ran faster at Kachina than she did last year despite it being a longer course. She wasn't 100 percent happy with her season last year, she really wanted to come in and make an impact so that's lit a fire under her this year. She's definitely hungry for success and she's already contributing.
bc.net: Your teams are headed out to Stillwater to race in the Cowboy Jamboree at Oklahoma State. This is a meet that you've been at before and a lot of the top teams go to this meet.
MH: The Cowboy Jamboree, we were hoping when we put it on our schedule that it was going to be as competitive as it was two years ago because last year was kind of an off year for it and it wasn't a very competitive meet last year but luckily the teams who are confirmed to be competing have just been announced and it looks like it's going to be an unbelievable meet. On the men's side we've got Indiana coming who is ranked number two within their region which is the Great Lakes region, which is one of the tougher regions in the country. Northern Arizona who we see fairly often, the Arkansas men are coming, Oklahoma State's men were the national champions last year. Oklahoma, Tulsa, UTSA, it's going to be a great meet. I think it's going to be an outstanding opportunity for us to see how we stack up against some of the better schools in the country.
bc.net: What are your expectations for the meet on both the men's and the women's side?
MH: I've been pouring over results and just trying to see how the other teams stack up and how we stack up and it's our first meet that we are going to be competing out of region. We've seen UNM, we've seen UTEP, we kind of know how we stack up against them. My goal going in is to mix it up with some of these better teams. On the women's side, Northern Arizona is ranked eighth in our region, we're currently ranked 11th, I think we'll be able to mix it up with them.
On the men's side I do think that we'll be able to mix it up with some of the better schools out there. I think this weekend will be very telling on both the men's and women's side on how far we're going to go this season.
We also have some individuals who have been vying for an individual spot for the national championships. The Schultz twins have been trying ever since their freshman year. It's very very difficult to get an individual spot. I know Ian, Jonah, Kevin Taft, they have their sights set on the same thing. If they're going to do that they're going to need to be up there with those top guys this weekend. It'll be a great opportunity to see how we stack up and how much work we need to do.
bc.net: As you kind of forecast into the next couple of weeks as you prepare for the WAC championships in Hawai'i, what are some things that you'll be working on?
MH: At this point in the season it's really all about just maintaining your mileage and maintaining a high volume in your workouts. The kids are running tired right now, there's no doubt about it. We've had two very very challenging weeks, demanding weeks where we've had three workouts two weeks ago, two workouts last week and this week we're going to have a little bit of a down week where the kids who are competing are only going to have one workout this week. So they should be a little bit fresher going into Oklahoma. In terms of the things we're working on, it's all about maintaining a high level of volume in both their weekly mileage and their workouts for as long as possible and then dropping it once we begin the championship phase of our training. Obviously there's sharpening work that we're going to do. We haven't done any speed yet whatsoever with the men or the women. Once we start doing that they'll start to sharpen up a little bit. We do have a little bit of speed thrown in this week but next week is really going to be when we start actual speed workouts.