The clatter of footsteps rang incessantly throughout Cox Stadium as the women’s cross country team competed in their first time trial of the season.
Assistant coach Sam Ahlbeck peered occasionally down at his watch to check their progress.
“A lot of the girls want to take the reins and be a leader on the team because of their personalities, their desire to be a good athlete and their want to be a good team,” Ahlbeck said. “So one of the fun things is to see when one of them takes charge on their own and they’ve done a really good job of that.”
The Gators are running a young squad once again this season, with only one senior and four juniors on the team. Despite their youth, the group does not lack in experience or leadership, according to senior Nicole Novales.
“Last year we had a whole bunch of new runners and it was mostly freshman and then me,” Novales said. “But now, it’s like everybody’s a veteran and we have some new girls who are excited to be a part of the team.”
Head coach Kendra Riemer and Ahlbeck recruited two transfer students, including Jessica Betancourt from Palomar College, to complement the team’s core of sophomores, and they’ve fallen right in step, according to Ahlbeck.
“Our transfers came in and they hit the ground running,” Ahlbeck said. “It’s made things very easy on our coaching staff.”
The adjustment for returners and newcomers has been painless as well, according to Betancourt.
“The (returning players) were really welcoming and showed us the ropes,” Betancourt said. “I feel like after my first practice they greeted me as if they knew me forever, so that was cool. They are very relaxed and very inclusive.”
This sentiment of camaraderie was echoed by other teammates, allowing the women to fulfill their potential without fear of failure.
“Everyone kind of steps up,” said sophomore Cori Harral. “We switch up who’s in charge of workouts so it’s pretty balanced.”