bleedCrimson.net will be interviewing the coaches from the men's and women's cross country teams throughout their season. This week we spoke with assistant coach Paul Harkins and talked about the men's and women's teams, Ingrid Flores and the future of Aggie cross country.
bleedCrimson.net: Talk about the men's and women's teams.
Paul Harkins: We are a very much improved program both on the men's and women's side. On the women's side we have a very solid core of athletes led by Ingrid Flores. She was the conference champion last year in the 5k on the outdoor track. We also have the second place girl, Brandi Gutierrez who was our number two in the 5k at conference as well. It's just a great crew, everybody has improved a lot. We're very young on the women's side, we have our entire team back next year.
On the men's team we have eleven new guys this year to go along with our core of returning guys from last year. We have an All-Conference guy from three years ago back, healthy and ready to go in his fifth year. Then we have just a great group of young guys like Michael Hart who led us in every race last year. Ian Ruybalid is a freshman newcomer this year who has been fantastic for us so far. We've got a transfer James Nduati from Dine College, just a bunch of other guys as well. Anthony Ellis is a kid out of Washington who ran 4:14 in the mile. Just a great group.
Every race we've run so far just compared to our last year's results has been far better. I think we went from 7th at UNM last year to 3rd this year which is obviously a big jump on the men's side. We went from 3rd on the women's side last year to 2nd at UNM and just kind of as a marker. Things are going really well so far.
bc.net: Talk a little bit about Ingrid Flores, back to back WAC Cross Country Athlete of the Week honors.
PH: It's a great honor for her. It's great to have the recognition from the rest of the conference. It's great for them to give her the recognition she deserves. She's worked really hard. She didn't have the best cross country season last year, we didn't even take her to the regional meet I believe at the end of the season. But then she worked her butt off all winter long and all track season ended up as conference champion and now she's back stronger than ever. I don't know what she can do at the conference meet this year but I think she's going to definitely be up there.
bc.net: Talk a little bit about the men's and women's teams both getting regional rankings (men 15th, women 13th). Last year when the rankings came out the women's team was ranked but not the men's team.
PH: I think it just kind of goes to show you, the rankings didn't come out until after our first meet. People I think took notice of the improvement that was shown in the program not just only the newcomers that we had coming in on the men's side but also just from the improvement and dedication the returners have shown.
On the women's side I think we started out in a spot we should improve on. I think that's a fine ranking for now but at the end of the season I think we should be ranked a little higher. We'd like to break into the Top 10 by the end of the regional meet. On the women's side for sure and hopefully on the men's side as well. I think they definitely have the talent and if they put it together they can be a Top 10 type of team also.
bc.net: Talk a little bit about the first three meets you've had.
PH: It's been going really well so far. We went up to Albuquerque in our first meet up at UNM. Albuquerque is obviously the largest city in the state and it's a big recruiting area for us and it was great to show the improvement that the kids showed out there. The local high schools, the people we've started to make connections with took a little bit of notice and they could tell there's a different level of focus, a different amount of intensity that our teams are showing and I think it was great to open up there.
At UTEP we went down there and took care of business. We didn't run as well as I would have liked but we went down there and did exactly what we were supposed to do. There were only three teams there. We were top team on the women's side, we were second on the men's side to a nationally ranked UTEP team. But we did what we were supposed to do.
At our home meet it was a great chance to catch a glimpse of the conference championship course. Up at the golf course it's a brand new course, nobody's run it except for the people that came this weekend. There weren't any other WAC teams there so hopefully that's an advantage that will help us down the line being the only team that has actually raced that course prior to the meet. The women looked really really strong and on the men's side they looked great too. They were in perfect position, we ended up having a missed turn and they ran a little bit shorter race but at the time they came across the line they were exactly where they needed to be at that point in time of the race. I could tell they were ready to start moving up and making up spots.
The start of the season has gone really well so far. We've got two more meets before the conference meet. We go to Arizona State not this weekend but next weekend which will be the start of our next phase.
bc.net: With the conference championship meet being in Las Cruces, talk about the opportunity that having it here presents to your teams.
PH: I just think it's a really good opportunity to garnish some support from the area. We're a brand new staff here after last year this is kind of our first full year. We just finished our first full year. We just got our recruits in for our first true class. And I just think that for the kids who have been with us a year and the newcomers who know us through the recruiting process, I think it's gonna be really great to open up our first class at home for the conference championships. I hope to get as much support as we possibly can from the administration, who have shown a tremendous amount of support already, we even had people representing us at the home meet this past weekend, which isn't always the case with cross country. It's been fantastic so far.
bc.net: Talk a little bit about the improvements that you're hoping to see from last year to this year.
PH: Last year on the men's and women's side we were 6th at the conference meet. I firmly believe we can finish top four on both sides and if things go well, even higher. On the women's side I know Nevada's got an incredible roster, I know Utah State is going to be tough and Idaho is going to be tough. Right now we should sitting in the fourth spot on the women's side but with the ability to improve on that. I think top four is definitely our goal this year and possibly a podium spot.
On the men's side depending on how the freshmen come along and how they're feeling at the end of the year I think we could surprise some people with a top four or even podium spot as well.
bc.net: Talk a little bit about the meet at Arizona State. I believe ASU is ranked 3rd and 4th regionally for men's and women's cross country.
PH: Yeah, Arizona State's got a phenomenal program. It's not a huge meet for them. It's a home meet but I don't think they'll run their top squads there just because two weeks after that there's the pre-national meet they go to and that's a big focus for them. I don't think they run their top guys, they'll run some redshirts and some 'B' squad guys and women. But Arizona State's women's team is ranked 4th or 5th in the country so their 'B' squad is obviously going to be pretty good as well.
It's going to provide an opportunity to run against some people we don't typically see. Some different competition and some more difficult competition as well. It just all depends on who Arizona State decides to run, what other schools show up. I know Arizona's going to be there, there are some schools in California that came out last year. Possibly Northern Arizona. Northern Arizona is another team that's ranked nationally on the men's side but again I don't know if they'll run their 'A' squad guys.
bc.net: Who are a few of the athletes on the men's and women's side you're looking to have good years and be building blocks for the program.
PH: On the women's side obviously Ingrid Flores was the conference champion in the 5k and two time WAC Athlete of the Week this year so she's obviously going to be our staple. Running behind her is Amy Arenas, she's a sophomore, local girl from Mayfield, who's just improved a tremendous amount. Coming out of high school she was a six minute miler and by the end of the year she was sixth in the conference in the 10k and was able to run 6:20 pace roughly for 6 miles back to back. Tremendous improvement that she's shown and she's gotten even better since that meet to this year. She's running probably a six minute pace for her 5k's now in cross country so she's shown a tremendous amount of improvement. Brandi Gutierrez is right with her as well. Brandi has a tremendous amount of talent. She led us in all but two races in cross country last year and she was the number two girl in the 5k outdoor last year. So those three I would say are our nucleus for this year but right behind them are Brittany Hurtado who was a finalist in the 1500 at conference last year and Christina Herrera who was barely out-kicked for the eighth and final scoring spot in the 5k last year. So we definitely have a solid group of distance girls.
On the men's side, Michael Hart, he was the top guy at every single race last year. Josh Sifuentes was the guy who was All-Conference and is returning for his fifth and final year and is in good shape and 100% healthy again so it'll be good to have Josh back. Then after that we have Patrick Hernandez and Austin Brackeen returning from last year's team but there's a tremendous group of freshmen who came in this year including Ian Ruybalid from Los Lunas who has led us in two of three races this year. Anthony Ellis from Redmond HS in Redmond, WA who like I said was a 4:14 miler. Then Victor Sanchez from El Paso Chapin HS has done a great job and ran in the top three several times. And James Nduati the transfer from Dine College have all been running great. It just continues on from there we've got a great pack on the men's side.