Cross country teams open season in top 14

Editor’s note: the women’s team fell to No. 6 and the men fell to No. 25 in the rankings released on Sept. 15

Story and photos by Daniel Gaona

One race into the season, Pima Community College men’s and women’s cross country head coach Greg Wenneborg has mixed feelings.

The Aztecs will race for the second time this season on Sept. 17 at the Dave Murray Invitational, which is hosted by the University of Arizona.

Julia Dittiger

The event will be held at the Randolph Golf Course, 600 S. Alvernon Way. The women are scheduled to start at 5 p.m. and the men at 5:45 p.m.

Pima opened the season at the George Kyte Invitational in Flagstaff on Sept. 4. Wenneborg saw both good and bad.

The good came on the women’s side as four Aztecs finished their 5k race under 20:50. With the strong performance, the women earned the No. 5 spot in the national rankings.

“I think it was a generous ranking because some teams have not run yet but I think the girls can stay there because I think there is a lot of improvement left,” Wenneborg said. “We’ve got seven strong girls that could all potentially be a top finisher for us on any day.”

The bad came from the men’s squad, which is currently ranked 14th in the first poll of the season.

“The guys had an off day in Flagstaff,” Wenneborg said. “Luckily other teams in the conference had a little bit of an off day too.”

Wenneborg feels the men have a lot of room to improve and he’s cautiously optimistic about them.

“They’ve got a ways more to go and a little more time to put in to make it into the top 10,” he said. “We have the potential but the guys are going to need to find their heart.”

Sophomore Mario Portillo took the top spot for Pima on the men’s side in 29:10.9, although he wasn’t thrilled with finishing 36th.

“It was actually a very bad race,” Portillo said. “I was not happy with it because I was shooting for the top 20.”

He’s hoping to make up for the poor performance in the coming races.

“Training has been going good so I am hoping the next race goes better,” Portillo said. “I need my redemption because it was a horrible race.”

Freshman Andy Lacy finished two spots behind him in 29:19.4. Angel Camargo, also a freshman, placed 53rd in 30:40.8.

Portillo thinks the team will be much improved by the midpoint of the season.

“I think we’re really strong but it’s early in the season, so it’s kind of hard to tell right now,” Portillo said. “Right before regionals is when we’ll be able to tell how good we’ll be. The end of the season is when we’re supposed to be strong.

“A major goal is to do really good at nationals, top 10 as a team and top 20 individually.”

Julia Dittiger was the top Aztec on the women’s side. She placed 25th in 20:13.2, which she said was a minute better than her finishing time last year in Flagstaff.

“I ran the race about a minute faster than last year so I was excited about that,” Dittiger said. “We had been doing hill workouts and I just felt really prepared for it.”

Dittiger said the women did well because they stayed within seconds of each other. Freshman Heidi Lopez placed 27th in 20:17.1 and sophomore Annalisa Loevenguth finished 28th in 20:28.2. Twenty-three seconds later, Julia Peerenboom placed 35th.

“It makes it a lot easier to run when you’re in a pack of your own teammates,” Dittiger said. “It’s important to run as a pack because you’re stronger that way. Other runners are more intimidated by you if you’re coming by with three Pima runners at a time.”

She felt the hill workouts were essential to the solid performance at Northern Arizona University.

“They helped out quite a bit because the elevation really hits you when you’re up there,” Dittiger said. “It’s hard to run up there because the air is thinner and it makes it hard to breathe.”

“Doing hill workouts, you feel that same thing because you’re exerting your energy a lot so you just build up a bigger endurance,” she added.

Sophomore Magda Mankel ran the race unattached and placed 18th in 19:48.5. She is waiting for her dual enrollment with PCC and the UA to come through. Wenneborg hopes to have her on the roster soon.

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