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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Cross Country

Barraza, Tesfai push cross country team

Junior Yonas Tesfai and freshman Brian Barraza have been trying to raise the bar higher for UH cross country team at each meet. They are now looking toward a chance to compete at the NCAA national championships.

Both have accomplished a lot this semester. During each of his first three tournaments at UH, Barraza finished in the top three, winning the Baylor Twilight Invitational in August. He has finished as the Cougars’ top runner in three of four tournaments. Tesfai finished in first at the TAMUCC Islander Splash in September.

Before a trip to nationals can be booked, the duo must compete at a high level in Madison, Conn. for the American Athletic Conference Championship on Saturday.

For head coach Steve Magness, the goal at nationals is to make it into the top five. In order to make that come true, Tesfai, Barraza and the rest of the team must continue to improve.

“They’re doing a really good job. At this point, we’ve put in the work we need to. It’s more about refining race tactics and making sure they know who to run with,” Magness said.

Tesfai said he knows that before he competes on the national level, he wants to place within the top three for conference.

He said Barraza reminds him of himself as a freshman.

“He’s got a big heart. … Even if you’re a freshman, you can do it — you can go to nationals,” Tesfai said. “He works really hard in practice. We run together, and I’m here to support him.”

Barraza’s biggest concern with nationals is getting there.

“I’ve got a lot of strength in me that I didn’t really know I had. The 8K is a long race, and the mistakes you make in the beginning can come back to haunt you,” Barraza said.

As a team, the two men allow each other to play off their strengths to improve the outcome at a meet. When one gains improvement, so does the other, Tesfai said. Although there is a competitive spirit during practice, it is still a helpful environment. The cross country runners put their strategies together for the advancement of the team. When one of them is falling behind in a race, the other will drag them along to motivate one another until the finish line.

As different as these men are, so are their running techniques. Tesfai said he is able to maintain consistency through the long races and finishes strong. Barraza kicks off the race with top speed.

Although Magness recognizes the level of difficulty it will take to get there, he ultimately sees potential in both men to go to nationals.

“Those guys definitely have what it takes. If they put themselves in the right position, they have a shot to go,” Magness said.

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