Men's cross country focuses on improvement, unity for next season

The 2011 SF State Men’s Cross Country team is entering uncharted waters.

SFSU cross country

SF State's cross-country team runs at Cox Stadium on Aug. 30 in preparation of their first event of the year next week. Photo by Mike Cheng.

SFSU cross country

SF State's cross-country team runs at Cox Stadium on Aug. 30 in preparation of their first event of the year next week. Photo by Mike Cheng.

The team finished 2010 with its highest ranking on record and all signs point to even brighter returns for this season.

“I definitely think we can improve,” said junior co-captain Brian Trejo. “We’re just at the base of where we ultimately want to be.  This year we’re planning on really making some noise.”

The Gators enter the season ranked tenth in the NCAA Division II West region preseason poll, a spot that junior co-captain Tyler Deniston feels does not do the team justice.

“I think ratings don’t mean much for us but we’re definitely underrated,” Deniston said. “I feel like for us a goal is to be in the top four or five so we can make it to nationals. We definitely have the team to do that. We just have to put all the pieces together.”

Head coach Tom Lyons agrees and said that the team has improved a lot over the years.

“We can compete with the top teams,” Lyons said. “We’re better than we were a year ago.”

The optimism is understandable, considering that six of the team’s top runners return from 2010, including Trejo, Deniston and sophomore Bruk Assefa.

“The returners are really what have made this team,” Lyons said. “These are the guys have changed the program into a serious group of dedicated runners.”

At the top of the group is Trejo, the team’s number one runner and a tone-setter for the rest of the athletes. He was the Gator’s top finisher in five of the six meets in 2010. He was the top college athlete at the season-opening Stanislaus invite meet.

Trejo narrowly missed out on all-conference honors, finishing 16th in the California Collegiate Athletic Association championships. He was also recognized for his academic achievements, earning all-academic honors from the U.S. Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association in both of his years at SF State.

“(Trejo) is the leader of the pack,” Lyons said. “He’s so consistent, so reliable. You wouldn’t even notice if he had a bad day,”.

The Gators are no one man team, however. Lyons expects other runners to be right on Trejo’s tail throughout the season.

“There are three or four guys who will be right there with him on any given day,” Lyons said.

The team is bolstered by six new recruits, including junior college transfers Ernesto Rodriguez and Will Zentmyer, who have gelled quickly with their teammates. Rodriguez and Zentmyer were teammates at Pasadena City College, where Zentmyer was named the team’s most valuable runner. Both runners finished in the top 50 at the California Community College cross country championships in 2010.

“We got really lucky in recruiting this year. It’s almost like the new guys have been here all along,” Lyons said.

The team benefits from a togetherness that comes from building up a program that formerly finished its seasons at the bottom of the standings.

The Gators come into this season with unprecedented expectations. Trejo believes that good times are just beginning.

“I think we’re just as capable as any other team out there now with this team that we’ve gathered,” Trejo said. “Also just with the high spirits we have right now, we can show what this program is really about.”

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