Spotlight to shine on the many, not the few, for women's cross country

The runners on the SF State women’s cross countryteam love to run. They have to.

SFSU cross country

Women's cross country team trains at Cox stadium on Aug. 30 for their first competition at Belmont on Sunday. Photo by Mike Cheng.

The team, which includes many veteran runners as well as several newcomers, is working to improve its unity and attitude in order to progress this season. Coach Tom Lyons insists his athletes have a passion for the sport.

“They need to love to run,” Lyons said. “It’s not something I want. It’s a requirement. To be on this team, it’s necessary.”

This attitude has paid off, as the team has made drastic progress throughout Lyons’s six-year coaching tenure.

“We’ve improved a lot just by the team effort,” said senior co-captain Karen Marchan. “Getting the right type of people that want to keep running and stay here as a team and motivate each other, that’s a big step.”

Long relegated to the bottom of the California Collegiate Athletic Association standings, the Gators have climbed in rankings in recent years, finishing just outside the top 10 in the NCAA Western Regionals in 2010.

The team returns a number of its elite runners from last year, including junior Sue Choi, senior Courtney Stephens and junior co-captain Kendall Dye. Choi was the Gator’s number one finisher at the 2010 Santa Clara Invitational and number two finisher at three of the other five meets last year. Stevens and Dye took turns finishing third for the team at a number of meets in 2010. With last year’s number one Tanya Ferreira having graduated, competition for the team’s top spot is up for grabs.

Lyons also expects a large contribution from newcomers, particularly junior college transfer Zuleima Jimenez and freshman Paxton Cota.

Jimenez, who competed for both Moorpark and Oxnard community colleges, finished 17th out of over 209 runners at the California Junior College state harrier meet. She also clocked a fifth place time at the state 10k track finals.

Cota was a two-time all-league honoree at Dana Point High School, where she helped her team to a Division I state championship in 2008.

In these early stages of the season the team lacks a definitive standout athlete, but Dye sees that as an asset.

“I think this year is different because we don’t have a first runner,” Dye said. “We don’t know who’s going to be there. It’s up in the air. It could change every week. In the past there’s been a lot of ‘superstar runners’. Our team’s not really about that.”

Marchan thinks the lack of a definitive superstar runner will encourage each runner to strive to be the best.

“It gives us the opportunity to really shine and push each other and you know that everyone is there for that same exact goal,” Marchan said. “There’s no one person who’s always going to be first place or second place. Now everyone will shoot for that goal.”

The Gators will have tough competition in the CCAA, which includes Chico State University and Cal Poly Pomona, respectively #3 and #24 in the NCAA Division II pre-season rankings.

Nevertheless, the team has lofty expectations for this season.

“One goal that we always strive for is to go to nationals,” Marchan said. “I think if we all look at that and do really well in the season, we’ll be there.”

Regardless of their final rankings at the end of the season, it’s a certainty that the runners will love every step of the journey.

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