SF State cross country teams ready to wrap up exemplary season

Hang Cheng

Tom Ashby (left), and Ryan Chio (right), members of the SF State men cross country team, sprint for the finish line during the SF State invitational cross country race in Golden Gate Park, Oct. 7. The men's team finishes first place, and it is their fourth consecutive win. Photo by Hang Cheng.

It’s hard for a cross country team to be badass.  It’s just not one of those sports.  There’s no contact.  The athletes are petite by necessity.  Nothing about cross country is inherently cool.

However, take a look at the 2011 SF State cross country squad.  Watch the crimson mane of Will Zentmeyer or Ernesto Rodriguez’s onyx locks as they bounce behind them like a blur streak from a cartoon. See Tyler Deniston’s Ralph Macchio headband.  View the electric pulse of the fluorescent green kicks strapped to the feet of Zuleima Jimenez.

These Gators have a swagger that is usually reserved for the glory-hog sports. Coach Tom Lyons’ squad is, especially for a bunch of skinny people wearing purple short-shorts, a little bit badass.

Winning is a great way to add to your street cred. Both the men’s and women’s squads had banner years for the program.

The men’s team has done nothing but win all year.  They finished their regular season slate undefeated, having finished first in each of their four meets.

This feat is made more impressive when considering the fact that no previous men’s team on record has won more than two meets in a season.

The Gators also had a record showing at the California Collegiate Athletic Association championship.  Their second-place finish was the highest any SF State cross country squad has ever ranked.

It has been a collaborative effort for the men this season.  Three different runners have finished a meet as the number one Gator.  Not one Gator has finished as the top runner overall in a given race, but strong team scores have given SF State the win each time.  A number of times this year, the top-five scoring pack for the Gators has finished within ten seconds of each other.

The emotional leaders of the team are Deniston and fellow junior Brian Trejo. Other standout runners include Rodriguez, sophomore Bruk Assefa, sophomore Ryan Chio, and junior Zentmyer.

Rodriguez and Assefa earned all-conference honors by virtue of their top-15 finishes at the CCAA finals.

The women’s team has not had the resounding success of the men’s, but still has much to be proud of for their 2011 season.

They finished in the top five of each of their regular season meets and sixth in the CCAA championship.

Two newcomers to the squad established themselves as front runners.  Jimenez, a sophomore transfer student, and freshman Paxton Cota have led the Gators in each race.

Cota opened the season by being named conference runner of the week for her second-overall finish in the Notre Dame De Namur Invitational.

Jimenez was the first Gator finisher in each of the other four races on the year.  She finished in the top five in every meet.

Jimenez had a day for the record books at Saturday’s CCAA championship.  Her 22 minute, 30 second time in the 6km race shattered the school record at that distance by 22 seconds.  Jimenez finished in fourth place at the race, which featured all-American level competition.  Conference coaches voted Jimenez as the CCAA female conference newcomer of the year.

Cota also earned all-conference honors by finishing fourteenth in the finals.

The Gator women are bolstered by a strong pack, including Sue Choi, Kendall Dye and Courtney Stephens.

Six SF State runners in history have earned all-CCAA honors before this season.  Four Gators accomplished the feat this year.

The squad now turns its attention to the NCAA Division II West Regional Championship Nov. 5 at Spokane, Wash.  A top-four finish there would mean a bid to the national finals.

For a squad that has only ever known the doldrums of conference competition, it’s remarkable for them to be thinking about competing for a national title.

That’s pretty badass.

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