Photos Courtesy of Lolo Mercado
(L-R) Kayla Pallares, Elida Pargas, Mindy Rincon, Andrea Amaro, Shannon Luevano, Brittany Parga and Mercy Rottich.
Yvonne Del Rio &
The EPCC Tejanas cross country team won the first national cross country championship in school history Saturday morning in Lubbock, Texas.
EPCC had five runners among the first 31 finishers to earn 64 points, winning the national title over their nearest competitor, Central Arizona College, which finished with 110 points.
Sophomore Andrea Amaro led the way by finishing fourth in the individual competition with a time of 18:06.
“I wasn’t really surprised that I finished fourth because I followed coach [Felix] Hinojosa’s plan of pacing myself and he was right – as always,” Amaro said.
“While we were waiting for the announcement of the winners, we had heard some people saying the race was really close so we didn’t know what to expect, so we were really surprised and excited when we heard we had won.
“I was in shock; I was waiting for someone to come up to us and say ‘no’ that we didn’t get it.”
Amaro was followed by Mercy Rotich, who finished in sixth place with a time of 18:16.
Kayla Pallares also finished in the top ten placing eighth at 18:19.
Each of them earned NJCAA All-American honors for finishing in the top 15.
“I improved my time by almost a full minute and I’m so excited about making All-American,” Pallares said.
“It was unbelievable, we started screaming and hugging each other. I got so many hugs that my chest started hurting.”
They were followed by Shannon Luevano in 18th place at 18:37 and Brittany Parga in 31st place at 19:02.
The Tejanas had an average time of 18:28.
“This is by far the most competitive smartest driven team I’ve ever had because they learn from their mistakes and they are also very driven which is good,” Hinojosa said.
“They exceeded my expectations in the sense that they followed my directions.”
Hinojosa said he knew the team would have to run the race in a certain way to be successful.
“The race plan had to be built up to the point where we needed to get out in front and dictate the pace,” he said.
“At the 300-meter mark there was a very sharp turn and you’ve got 274 people on the line, 36 teams and they funnel in. The fact that we avoided that really helped our chances.”
Though the team finished on top, they didn’t start that way.
“Honestly, throughout the year it’s been a struggle with the girls as far as us clicking and coming together,” explained Amaro.
“As the season wore on, we all started to want the same thing and began working together toward our goal and we did it.”
Even though the EPCC cross country teams exceeded expectations at the national meet, they don’t have long to celebrate.
Amaro will lead her team to the NJCAA Half Marathon Championships in Topeka, KS, on Nov. 22. Last year, she finished first in that competition.
“A 5K is really not my race,” Amaro said.
“I’m better at longer distances.
I’ll be defending my title there.
I think defending a title is harder than winning one.
Last year it wasn’t expected, but this year I feel like I have a bull’s-eye on me.
“It’s a lot of pressure, but hopefully I can put all that aside and defend my title.”
Hinojosa said that he trains the runners to manage not only the course but also decisions.
“To see the girls happy and to see that they learn if you plan for success it will come like an epiphany that oversees national championships,” he said.
Also, the EPCC men’s cross country team had another strong showing after taking second place in regionals.
The Tejanos finished fourth out of 33 schools at nationals last Saturday in Lubbock with 128 points.
(L-R) Ricardo De Santiago, Eli Kosegi, David Colmenero, Gerardo Escapita, George Yator and Marco Perez.
“They could have done better, they have a tendency not to follow the race plan and kind of deviating from it,” Hinojosa said.
“We ran as best as we could in those conditions.”
Iowa Central won the title with 62 points, followed by Central Arizona with 68 and coming in third was South Plains College with 71.
The top finisher for the Tejanos was George Yator in fifth place with a time of 24:56, which earned him NJCAA All-American honors. David Colmenero followed with a time of 25:59, Gerardo Escapita (26:09), Eli Kosgei (26:21), David Gonzalez (26:22), Marco Perez (26:27) and Ricardo de Santiago (26:43).
The top 15 runners of the race were All-American honors and the top 40 runners are named Coaches All-American.
Yator was the only one from EPCC that earned All-American honor title and Colmenero, Escapita, Kosgei, Gonzalez and Perez got the Coaches All-American recognition.
“I think for the Half Marathon we are looking for another podium finish, where we actually have to switch gears and put in some different strategy,” Hinojosa said.