Both cross country teams huddling up prior to their race at the Mesa College Rampage on Oct. 20, 2023. (Photo by Dylan DeVlieger)

Mesa Community College cross country teams look to compete well in postseason

The men’s and women’s cross country teams of Mesa Community College look to put on a good performance at the NJCAA Region I Championships on Saturday, Oct. 28.

As of the Oct. 18 rankings, the men’s team is ranked first in the country and the women’s team is ranked fifth, according to the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association polls. However, the teams are doing their best to focus on getting better as the regular season concludes.

“Yea we look at them [the rankings], and we do use them as a motivational tool. Although, even though the men are number one right now, we just talk about staying hungry, staying motivated, staying humble,” said head coach of both teams, Daniel Pescador.

The rankings are a nice accolade and a boost of confidence for runners, however Pescador has made an effort to communicate to the team that ultimately, the races still need to be run and good performances are what dictate rankings.

The Mesa College Rampage on Friday, Oct. 20 presented an opportunity to compete at home for the first time since late August during the Mesa College Early Bird Open. 

The event consisted of only MCC runners, and allowed the teams to hone in on strategy and get a better feel for how they are performing going into the post season.

However, the contest also came just six days after both teams competed at the Highlander Invitational in Riverside, California.

The six day turnaround was the shortest either team has had to prepare for all season.

At the Highlander Invitational, the men’s team finished 13th out of the field of 26 teams from three separate associations; National Junior College Athletic Association, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The women’s team only had two runners compete at the 6,000 meter distance level, with Carmela Baldwin finishing 92nd and Regina Raimo finishing 127th out of a field of 256.

A point of emphasis for the team throughout the season has been their “pack mentality”, according to Pescador.

“We are always trying to maintain about 40 seconds from our number one to our number five runners. Really just trying to keep each other close in a race, and that’s the way that we train,” said Pescador. 

The men’s 2022 season ended with MCC runners scoring both first and second place in the national championship race, however they were defeated by Paradise Valley Community College who’s runners were able to secure spots three, four, five, six, and seven.

Cross country is scored by adding up the place of the top five runners of each team. Similar to golf, the team with the lowest score wins. 

The finish to the 2022 men’s season revealed the need to improve upon the team’s ability to finish races strong and as a pack, leading to coach Pescador placing an emphasis on it this year.

The ultimate balance lies within the team’s ability to stay together as a pack while also maintaining a good speed.

The team showed an ability to finish with a high speed by finishing first and second, but the “pack mentality” Pescador was looking to improve upon was still lacking.

The work to get better as a team has allowed for their success in the rankings, however individual accolades have also been awarded to runners as well.

Carmela Baldwin won her second ACCAC Runner of the Week honors after her performance at the Highlander Invitational.

“Seeing her work and evolve and adapt these last eight weeks, it’s definitely been no surprise. The conversation has been, you’re [Baldwin] in the hunt to win a national championship. The way that she’s training and racing, she’s gonna be there in the end,” said Pescador.

At this point in the season, the team places an emphasis on body maintenance and recovery to ensure top performance. An injury now could prove to be catastrophic for postseason aspirations.

Weathering illness is also a component to the war of attrition that is injuries in sports. As the weather begins to cool, athletes must take the changing temperatures into account when taking care of their health.

“It’s just about building off of what we’ve done all summer [and] all fall long. We do start to back off a bit in terms of our weekly mileage. We start to get more rest in between our workouts,” said Pescador.

The NJCAA Region I Championships on Saturday, Oct. 28 is the next performance for both teams in Glendale, Arizona, followed by the NJCAA Division II National Championships on Saturday, Nov. 11 in Huntsville, Alabama.

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