The SF State cross country team had its best showing ever in the California Collegiate Athletic Association Championships with the men finishing second and members of the women’s team receiving individual honors.
Four Gator runners earned all-conference honors in the event at Springs Lake Regional Park in Santa Rosa Saturday. Before this year, SF State had totaled six all-CCAA performers in school history.
The men took second in the team event. The number two finish sets a new high-water mark for the Gators, whose previous best was fourth place.
“It’s nice when they do the awards ceremony to have some folks go up there and get some awards,” said head coach Tom Lyons.
The men’s team took the runner-up spot as a pack. The Gator runners were lead by Ernesto Rodriguez in 14th overall with a 26 minute, 35 second finish in the 8 km race. Just a few steps behind was Bruk Assefa, followed closely by Will Zentmeyer, Brian Trejo and Tyler Deniston. Just seven seconds separated the top five SF State runners.
“If somebody’s having an off day, they look around and see their teammates and say ‘I’ve got strength in numbers.’ They’re all really similar (in) ability so that makes it even better. It really helps. Those five guys, that’s the way they do it…Those five together were fantastic,” Lyons said.
The Gators had little hope of beating conference powerhouse Chico State. The Wildcats ran away with their tenth straight CCAA title by notching 10 on the top 11 finishers.
Rodriguez and Assefa were given all-conference honors by virtue of their top-15 finishes.
“I came into this race telling myself that if I was hurting in the later parts of the race, I would pull myself through for the team – more for the team than myself,” Rodriguez said.
Zuliema Jimenez finished fourth in the heavily competitive women’s race. Her 22 minute, 30 second time smashed the former school record for 6 km by 22 seconds.
“Mentality-wise, it was hard to get adjusted because you’d be like ‘Oh, I want to give up. Let me just fall right here,’ but then it kind of comes back to you,” she said.
Jimenez, who transferred to SF State from Oxnard College, was named CCAA female newcomer of the year.
Jimenez led the Gators in all but one race in the season. She finished in the top five overall in every meet and took home the individual title in the Sonoma State Invitational October 2.
Freshman Paxton Cota finished in 14th place to also earn all-conference designation.
“Zuli and Paxton, they had phenomenal races today,” Lyons said.
Saturday’s meet set a new bar for the program, which languished at the bottom of the CCAA standings for years. Lyons gives all the credit to the athletes for the turnaround, but the runners believe that the coach deserves kudos as well.
“Tom is amazing,” Rodriguez said. “This program wouldn’t be the same without Tom and his positive attitude. A good team starts from the coach and goes all the way down the roster. He’s just been amazing, really inspirational, really supportive, always with a positive mindset. It’s contagious.”
With the bulk of the squad coming back for 2012, it appears the only direction to go for the Gators is up.
“We return all 20 people who ran today,” Lyons said. “You don’t ever want to look too far in advance, but I think the way that it’s gone, it’s set up nicely now and will continue.”
The teams now set their sights on the NCAA West Regional competition in Spokane, Wash. They can extend their season by finishing in the top four and earning a bid to compete in the national championships.