Valley News -

By Paisley Trent

Day in the life of a Great Oak Cross Country athlete


Last updated 8/22/2018 at 11:01am

Scott Padgett

Varsity girls loop around the Butterfield Stage Park for part of their long run.

For most high school students, waking up between 4 and 6 a.m. to get an eight mile run in before the heat hits wouldn't be the bulk of their summer plans; but Great Oak cross country athletes relish the chance to improve before their regular season starts.

Cross country runners Tori Gaitan and Fatima Cortes spent part of their summer training at the Nike Elite Camp in Portland, Oregon. While earlier in the summer, runner Cameron Hylton won his division in the Huntington Beach Half Marathon.

Head Coach Doug Soles focuses on teaching the importance of "the little things," such as taking care of one's body through diet, stretching and getting enough sleep. For freshmen, he believes the hardest part is mentally adapting as athletes figure out their motivation for the physical process of running long distances so frequently.

By splitting the larger team into smaller groups based on age and ability, the athletes are able to focus on improving, while also enjoying themselves. This method also helps them bond more and work together to motivate themselves. Heading into the season, the athletes have begun to set goals for themselves.

Along with winning various meets, they also hope to "create the deepest team in the country, where even the B and C teams remain competitive and have a chance to win," Soles said.

"Being the deepest team in the country involves everyone working hard," Zoe Medranda said.

Mendranda also strives to improve for her team and is motivated by her teammates, saying, "If I get better, the team gets better."

Soles believes that having consistency in performance and a strong work ethic are more important than talent for Great Oak's team.

With Soles coaching, Great Oak Cross Country won their sixth state championship in a row on the girls side last year. With both sides winning the California state meet the past four years in a row. The boys team also won Nike Cross Nationals in 2015.

"When you can win both sides that consistently, you know you're doing something right," Soles said.

Athletes are motivated by the team's past successes, which fuel their determination to win larger races.

Ryan Shields believes that in order to do well, "We all need to contribute when it matters."

Starting school poses a few challenges to athletes, as they must manage their time to focus on school and the beginning cross country season. With most athletes running before classes as well as after school at practice, they can have little free time for spending time with friends or doing homework.

Throughout the school day, remembering to hydrate and eat properly, as well as remaining focused on a full load of courses can be difficult. Soles and the athletes also stress the importance of getting enough sleep at the end of each day to properly recover and be able to begin again early the next day.

For assistant coach Vicki Espinoza, cross country is also about more than running.

"It's helping them grow up, it makes them a better person. If they can run 13 miles, it can make life a little easier," Espinoza said.

With athletes that are motivated to both win for their teammates and strengthening their sense of self, they can have fun while staying focused on their goals for the season and their training throughout the semester.

Cross country is a team sport at heart, not only through the collection of points during races but also throughout the entire season.

"I have a family on campus because of this sport," Medranda, who enjoys spending time and bonding with teammates on longer runs or when riding to meets, said.

Kat Candray emphasized how cross country gave her a good social group and support system through the people she ran with.

"If practice is something you look forward're more likely to stick with the sport," Candray said.

The more time spent with cross country athletes creates a greater understanding that there's more than running in the sport. Each athlete spends time working through ways to prevent injury, stretch, have a good diet, get enough sleep, drink enough water and bond with their teammates.

Scott Padgett

Senior athletes from left, Ryan Shields, Cameron Hylton and Brock Stuckey do squats to build strength after their run.

Through the sport of cross country, athletes work hard to run in training and to win races with their team. However, they also gain a family, a strong sense of community and have increased confidence in their abilities as they go throughout high school and beyond.

Going into his final year at Great Oak and last high school cross country season, senior Noah Nevens said, "I want to graduate the school and have my name known. When you make running such a big part of your life, you want people to understand."

As student-athletes in all grades cultivate their legacies, recently graduated alumni head off to begin their college running careers. Sandra Pflughoft will be at Savannah College of Art and Design, Carlos Carvajal is starting at University of Florida with Ericka Burgess at DePaul University, Jacob Korgan running for University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Gavin Korby at Long Beach State University.


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