Cross Country starts next chapter at Aggie Opener
What does a pack do without its leader? The Cougars Cross Country team will face that exact question as it begins the season on Friday at Texas A&M’s Aggie Opener event with its long time captain now graduated.
“The good thing is, for the first time in five years we don’t have a number one runner. We have people who could potentially be there though. I think the position our team is in with just one senior is a good thing. It challenges the (younger) people to rise to the occasion,” said head coach Steve Magness.
Alum Brian Barraza has been the leader and face of the Cross-Country team for the past few years, and while the Cougars will miss Barraza’s efforts on the field, he is sticking around in a coaching role.
“We’re still trying to figure out Brian’s official title, but with someone like that it’s great to have him around and to continue that legacy of UH graduates returning to the program. He can pass down his wisdom and help motivate others,” Magness said.
Senior distance runner Britani Gonzales said that Barraza has given her and the women’s team a lot of advice since he now has more time to help the rest of the runners instead of training all the time.
Some of the young runners he has been mentoring are redshirt freshmen Cooper Godfrey and Nicholas Fernandes for the men’s team and sophomores Claudia Santos and Brianna Nolen for the women’s team.
Godfrey and Fernandes did not compete in any meets last season, but coach Magness knows his untested athletes just need an opportunity to showcase their skills.
“We’re going to allow some of our younger athletes to step up and take their chance,” Magness said.
Santos competed in five meets during the 2017 season, finishing with a time of 24:56.6 and placing 84th in the 6K at the American Athletic Conference Championships.
Nolen only competed in two meets during her freshman campaign, opening her career at the Rice Invitational where she finished 33rd.
The transition between seasons can either be a time for athletes to stagnate, or a time for them to grow and add something to their game, and nobody knows this better than Magness.
“You never know what can occur over a summer,” Magness said. “You’re always looking for a surprise. Someone who took it seriously, got in shape and made a breakthrough. We always say, ‘our seasons are made in the summer,’ because if you put in a good summer of work then that lets you shine.”
The team has spent all summer preparing themselves for the start of the season in College Station. Magness said that he will pair the newest runners with more experienced runners to test them and see who puts up good results.
Gonzales is not competing at the event, but said she is exciting for her teammates to finally get the season started.
“I think everyone is the most fit that they’ve ever been since I’ve been here. They’ve been consistently been getting through the workouts, so I’m excited for them.” Gonzales said.
Gonzales’ excitement was shared by fellow senior Blake Contreras, who said that the venture into the new season has brought the team closer, and hopefully higher, than ever.
“The athletic potential is really good, but the team bonding has been great,” Contreras said. “We’re all friends and each other’s family. This is probably the best team we’ve ever had. There will be a big learning curve, but also a lot of growth.”