The LMU men’s and women’s cross country teams began their respective fall campaigns with a pair of impressive performances at the Mark Covert Classic Invitational in Brea, California on Aug. 31. The men finished third overall out of 19 teams and second overall among collegiate teams, while the women finished in fifth place out of 21 teams and third for collegiate squads.
In the men’s race, the Lions scored 111 points to earn runner-up among collegiate programs. Cal State Fullerton finished in first place, notching a tight 60 points.
LMU’s strong showing was led by junior Simeon Paul, who finished in 13th place overall out of 221 total runners. Paul tackled the 8,000 meter course in 25 minutes, 21.5 seconds. Shortly behind the Lions’ front-runner was sophomore Max Smith, who crossed the line in 25:36.3 for 18th place overall. Third for the Lions was junior Kyle Friedler, who finished in 25:43.0 for 22nd place, while freshman Roberto Ruelas (25:56.0, 33rd) and sophomore Zach Arias (25:56.6, 35th) rounded out the scoring for LMU.
On the women’s side, the LMU squad scored a total of 166 points to earn their third place among college teams, behind San Diego’s 144 points and Cal State Fullerton’s 41.
Redshirt senior Kyla Danforth recorded a dominant performance, crossing the line in fifth place out of 200 total runners. The Southern California native ran the 5,000 meter course in a time of 18:05.3. She was followed by freshman Gabriela Hernandez, who ran 19:06.5 for 32nd place. The Lions’ third finisher, senior Hannah Wohlenberg, finished in 40th place (19:24.8), while freshman Avery Doan (19:37.1) and sophomore Raina Hines (19:38.3) finished in 52nd and 54th, respectively.
The Lions will look to continue this initial success as they compete at a number of other invitationals, the next of which is the Cougar Classic this Friday in Colfax, Washington, hosted by Washington State University. The men and women will then enter postseason competition on Nov. 1, when they compete at the West Coast Conference (WCC) Championships, followed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) West Regional meet on Nov. 15.
Last year, the men finished in sixth place among the nine teams in the conference, and at the NCAA West Regionals, registered a 13th place performance among the 29 teams. This year, the men are looking to make significant improvements on those results.
“I think we just want to build off where we were last year,” said Paul. “I look forward to seeing how everybody does. I expect a lot, because I’ve been in everybody’s position for [...] two years,” said the junior.
The team lost a number of key seniors due to graduation, notably Jack Polerecky and Koby Pederson, the latter of whom became the first male in school history to qualify and compete in the NCAA National Championships. Despite this, Paul was excited with how the group performed in their first competition.
“I think the team ran very well. It was really nice to see everybody coming into the season ready versus having to get ready,” said Paul.
And despite losing key senior talent, Paul said the group understands that it is time for the current group to put in the time, training and performance. “I think a big part of executing plans at the end of the season is building good habits, and this is the time [to build them]," he said.
The women’s team, too, looks to build something special after their 2018 season. Last year, they finished in fourth place out of the 10 teams at the conference meet, and they finished 17th of 36 at the regional meet. In 2019, the team hopes to make major strides. But, like the men, this will be difficult with the losses of key runners, Maddi Vorgitch and Giselle Masedo, due to graduation.
“Every year it’s challenging because you always lose a few good people,” said Danforth. “I think this team has a lot of promise, and I think that we have a good group of girls that are really willing to put in the work and mileage. So even though our front runners aren’t as fast as Maddi and Giselle, the will to work hard is still there.”
The team’s plan to work hard, however, depends on their health. Danforth identified injuries as the most significant roadblock to the team’s success.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries with our core group, and [not] staying healthy creates a lack of depth,” said the senior. “Some of our stronger runners are always battling injury and trying to get back into shape, so staying healthy will definitely be our biggest opportunity [to do well].”
And both teams will need full health as they train for their respective fall campaigns. Danforth knows from personal experience that with full health and strong training, eventually, they will make the necessary steps up.
“That's my advice for all [my team members]: don’t give up, especially this season,” said Danforth, who broke a three-year-long personal record of 18:29.3 in the 5,000 meter distance with her 18:05.3 this season at the Covert Classic. “We’ve had one meet, and I had a big [personal record]. It’s just a matter of time."