By DANIEL GAONA
Pima Community College cross country coach Greg Wenneborg felt the men’s team was solid heading into the season but worried about the women’s team.
Now, at the end of the season, his mindset is the complete opposite.
The men’s team struggled throughout the season and failed to qualify for Nationals. It came down to injuries and the team just not being able to put it together at the right time.
On the other hand, the women used a true team effort to emerge onto the national stage. They are preparing to travel to Spartanburg, S.C., for Nationals, where they hope to place in the top five.
Pima dropped one spot to No. 11 after having an “off day” in the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 1 Championship meet. The off day meant finishing second as a team behind No. 3 Central Arizona College.
Central Arizona, the defending national champions, had six runners finish in the top 10 and is a major contender to win again.
The Aztecs had all seven runners finish within 17 places of each other at Regionals. Freshman stand-out Heidi Lopez led the way, placing 13th in 20:56.5. Sophomore Priscilla Mendoza finished right after Lopez in 20:57.2.
Sophomore Julia Dittiger came in 16th and freshman Jodine Steemers finished 19th to round out the four Aztecs in the top 20. Dittiger said she’s more excited about going to Nationals this year compared to last.
“Last year we had the two superstars running but this year we’re all pretty much in a pack,” Dittiger said, referring to Danielle Higgins and Vivian Reed. “Our first through sixth runners are all within about a minute of each other so we’re pretty close and that makes us stronger.”
Last year the women placed sixth at Nationals. Higgins finished 13th to lead the way while Reed finished 21st.
Wenneborg said the team is a little banged up heading into the championship meet on Nov. 13. Sophomore Annalisa Loevenguth will travel with the team but will most likely not run due to a stress fracture. Steemers is suffering from a stress reaction but should be healthy by then.
“I think it’s definitely going to be a team effort to step up,” sophomore Julia Peerenboom said about making up for injuries. “We’re a team, we’re a family and we’re going to step up when one person is having a little trouble and we’re all going to make up for that.”
Wenneborg said that losing one runner isn’t too much of an issue because only the top five finishers score.
Lopez is the apparent leader of the team but still credits the team for her success. She’s confident heading into her first trip to Nationals.
“I’m confident and excited but at the same time scared,” Lopez said. “I’m scared of not running well. I don’t want to mess up.”
Peerenboom and Dittiger reassured Lopez that the team wouldn’t let her down and said they are going in as positive as possible.
“The thing we have really going for our team is we have really good chemistry,” Dittiger said.
The two also looked back to the beginning of the season when Wenneborg told them he thought it was going to be tough getting to Nationals.
“It just shows that if you work hard enough you can get anything you set your mind to,” Peerenboom said.
Aside from running at Nationals the team is looking forward to the trip across the country.
Freshman Rachel Whitford said the Mt. Sac meet on Oct. 15 in Walnut, Calif., was one of the highlights of the season. It also was a factor in molding the team nucleus.
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