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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Cross Country

Runner finds his stride with experience


G.J. Reyna and Drevan Anderson-Kaapa believe that the cross country team has found success by replacing missing runners. | Ajani Stewart/The Cougar

After struggling through his freshman season and missing out on the conference championships, one member of the cross country team has soared to new heights in 2016.

Sophomore G.J. Reyna was off to a fast start and helped the men’s team reached top 10 finishes in their last three meets.

His performance might come as a surprise to outsiders, but this is a testament of what head coach Steve Magness and his staff committed to when they recruited Reyna. Although Magness said Reyna initially had difficulties transitioning to NCAA running, the staff didn’t worry because they knew his capabilities.

“We had great reports from high school coaches we trusted and once I saw him race, I knew he was a gem,” Magness said. “He had a toughness about him that is difficult to teach. When you get thrown into a new environment, with an increased training load, it’s hard to adapt sometimes. What G.J. did really well is he kept his head down and kept working.”

All-in learner

Reyna said the struggle he had early on was partly due to the change from high school running, where he was exposed to specific training methods, to the independence of college running.

Reyna now had to make all his own decisions and keep up with his training on his own time.

Since Magness increased his workload over the summer, coaches and fans are seeing a more comfortable runner. The changes made Magness excited for the future.

“I had a really good summer of training,” Reyna said. “It was really smooth, I didn’t have any injuries, so I really expected this year to be pretty good. Other than that, I’ve been trying to keep it going, try not to change any routines and just keep everything the same as far as sleeping and making healthier choices. I think that’s the key — just consistency in everything that I do.”

Reyna’s success and consistency this season have been vital, especially with the team’s decision to redshirt all-conference runners Brian Barraza and Blake Contreras.

With these runners out, Reyna is, for the time being, a model for his teammates as the season rolls along. He is expected to raise his performance and attitude after only one year on the team.

“G.J.’s the one who’s got to go out there and get the work done,” said manager Drevan Anderson-Kaapa. “It’s a pretty good environment. That’s the way our team is: Even if one of the guys has to be out, for instance like redshirting, then we’ve got another guy who’s willing to take his place, who’s going step up.”

Finish line

The Texas A&M invitational proved to be a big confidence booster for Reyna. After admittedly not running with 100 percent confidence at the first two meets, Reyna let go of his self-doubt and simply let himself run more than usual.

That decision proved fruitful. Reyna finished 24th overall, the best finish among the Cougars, as he helped the men place ninth overall against tough competition.

With the season near its end, Reyna looked to personal accomplishments as well as team glory now that both he and his coaches realize what can be achieved.

“I tried to stay away from the time part of cross country because of courses and all that,” Reyna said. “I’m looking at conference and I want to finish in the top 10 or top 15 over there. That’s kind of been the idea that’s been getting into my head lately. I think that would be a great finish to the season.”

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