By Daniel Gaona
Photo by Ed Adams
While the Pima Community College women’s cross country team already has secured a trip to Nationals, the men’s squad needs a huge finish to qualify.
Both teams will travel to Riverview Park in Mesa on Nov. 2 for the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 1 Championship meet.
The women are currently ranked No. 10 and have already booked a trip to Spartanburg, N.C. The men’s team, however, needs to beat Mesa Community College at the Nov. 2 meet in order to join the women.
“It’s never been more make-or-break for our guys team,” head coach Greg Wenneborg said. “We’ve taken a guys team every year and they’ve always finished in the top 15 for the last five years.”
Wenneborg said the men are ranked No. 20 but he feels they are better. The Aztecs have to move up five spots in order to go.
“Their upside potential is still very big but it comes down to beating a top 15 team and that is Mesa,” he said. “I’ve always believed we have the ability to beat Mesa on a good day but we haven’t put it all together.”
Injuries have been a factor for the men. Both Nate Corsi and Andy Lacy are dealing with foot issues but Wenneborg expects them to be ready.
“I think our top seven will line up healthy at the Region championship and take their best shot at Mesa,” Wenneborg said. “I know that when all our guys are on board, we are better than them.”
Paradise Valley Community College and Central Arizona College should finish first and second on the men’s side. Wenneborg said both of those teams will also place in the top four at Nationals. Pima would need to finish third.
“We have proven before that our late-season heroics are better than Mesa’s,” Wenneborg said. “I believe we are a finishing team and we have a pretty good shot at beating them on their home course.”
Last season, the women’s team never beat Mesa. However, the Aztecs placed three spots higher than the Thunderbirds at Nationals. This year’s women’s squad has been dominant from the start.
“Even though the women are ranked 10th, there are only three teams in the country who have a faster fifth runner than Pima does,” Wenneborg said. “I think they are not ranked correctly and on a great day they can be a top five team and potentially a top three team.”
He said the key to the women’s success is the team’s depth. It will also be essential for Pima’s success at Nationals.
“We have seven full-fledged weapons there,” Wenneborg added. “All of them can run under 19:30 and if you get five girls who run under that you’re going to be in the top four easily.”
The women are also dealing with minor injuries. Annalisa Loevenguth and Julia Peerenboom have foot injuries but are expected to be ready for both races.
Freshman Heidi Lopez has given the women a solid boost with her performance. Lopez led the Aztecs with a third-place finish in 19:43.5 at the Mesa Thunderbird Classic Oct. 21, which was hosted by MCC. Pima edged Central by five points to win the meet.
“We’ve done very well in the past few races so we don’t need to change anything,” Lopez said about preparing for Regionals and Nationals. “I go into every race prepared to run well. I don’t know who I have to beat or who I can stay with. I just run.”
Wenneborg said Lopez is a big reason for the women’s success so far. He expects her to finish in the top five of the region and top 20 at Nationals.
The men struggled at the Mesa meet and placed fourth. The host, the Thunderbirds, won the race meanwhile. Mario Portillo placed ninth in 27:05.3.
Portillo also feels that Mesa is beatable. He said endurance will be a big factor because the team has been struggling after the first three miles of its races.
“Something has been happening in the fourth mile and we all mess up,” he said.
Additionally, he said things haven’t been coming together at the right time but he feels that will change on Nov. 2.
“We just have to be mentally strong,” Portillo said. “We know how fast we are because we’ve been having awesome workouts. So I think it’s just getting the guys mentally prepared and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
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