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Thursday, June 8, 2023

Cross Country

Star runner Barraza finishes final season, leaves legacy of consistency

Head Coach Steve Magness said Brian Barraza has put himself alongside Cougar greats Al Lawrence and Leonard Hilton with his consistent work and finishing. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

Redshirt senior Brian Barraza said he wants to leave a legacy of consistent hard work training for cross country and be remembered for always putting in the effort to finish as high as he could. 

Barraza’s desire is anything but far-fetched. In four seasons of competition, Barraza was the model of consistency for the Cougars. Barraza’s numerous top-five and top-three finishes and multiple qualifications to the NCAA championship made his career with the Cougars one of the most successful since Olympians Al Lawrence and Leonard Hilton ran for the team in the ’60s and ’70s.

“We might not ever have another Brian, but his legacy will carry on for years,” head coach Steve Magness said. “He showed that you can become one of the best in the nation at a non-Power 5, inner-city university.”

Barraza has spearheaded a movement to bring the Cougars to a competitive level in the American Athletic Conference. And for the most part, it has been successful. For the first three years competing in the new conference, the Cougars placed in the top five each time, twice finishing third.

In all but his freshman year, Barraza was the Cougars’ top finisher. Although the team placed only sixth in his final conference championship race, Barraza had his best finish, placing second behind only Emmanuel Rotich of Tulane.

Barraza said he wanted to show others that Houston is a place where they can find success in cross country. When he came to Houston, all he had was faith in himself and Magness. It was his consistent effort that brought him success.

“People think you have to go to California or Oregon or some storied program in the Midwest to be successful,” Barraza said. “And really you get out of the program what you put into that program.”

Above the rest

The factors that made Barraza stand out were his trips to the NCAA Championships.

On the first trip, Barraza said the magnitude of the stage made him question if he belonged. But his second trip erased his doubts, and he felt he belonged at the front of the pack during his most recent trip, Barraza said.

But it was at the NCAA South Central Regional where Barraza was emotional about his distance career with the Cougars coming to an end. That day, the men placed sixth and Barraza placed second out of more than 200 runners. It was their best finish in 13 years, but they fell four spots short of the mark to qualify for nationals as a team.

“We have an old team now,” Barraza said. “We had four fifth-year seniors that raced at regionals. So when we crossed the line together, we could all feel the five years of work that we had put in.”

Moving on

Lacking Barraza, the team will need to adapt. He said it will take time to rebuild, but the team is still set up for the future.

This year, five different runners ran under the old school 3K record, Barraza said, showing they are moving in the right direction. Junior G.J. Reyna has already established himself as the successor to the top finisher on the team. With him at the helm, the Cougars should be able to build off of what they accomplished with Barraza.

“Everybody’s pushed the program in the right direction,” Barraza said when asked how the team has changed since his freshman year in 2013. “Every single person that we’ve brought in has taken charge of the team in their own way, pushed us in a direction to make every recruiting class a little bit better (and) every workout a little bit better.”

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