The Daily Aztec

Short two runners, cross country unable to score at conference championships

by Mary York, Digital Sports Editor

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Lily Seynaeve runs the course at the Mountain West Championships on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. She finished 53, with a final time of 22:45.95. Photo courtesy of SDSU / Timothy Nwachukwu.

Five runners are needed to score in cross country, and this season, only three Aztecs were able to cross the finish line at the Mountain West Conference Championship, rendering San Diego State unable to place in conference.

A shortage of racers has posed unique challenges for the Aztecs all season. Head coach Robert Lusitana said the need to maintain the team throughout a long season adds extra pressure.

Getting sick or injured is not an option, he said.

“Its’ makes it a little more difficult in that we don’t have a lot of margin for error,” Lusitana said. “We have to train but we also have to worry about not injuring people. We can’t afford an injury. We have to be cautious.”

Although the team has been able to pull together despite illnesses and minor ailments for most of the season, the Aztecs were down two runners at conference finals — one of the two started but was unable to finish due to injury — and thus were not able to receive a score.

Owing to the team’s rare dynamic this year and the makeup of the conference, Lusitana said winning the Mountain West Championships is not the goal – rather, sights are set on the NCAA West Regional (6K) in Seattle, Washington.

“It’s not like our region is any easier but it’s a little different,” said Lusitana, citing the laurels of New Mexico (No. 2) and Boise State (No. 8) and the advantages of schools in higher altitude as key factors in making Mountain West one of the most difficult conferences in the nation.

“If we were in PAC 12, I’d be playing towards conference,” he said, “but since we’re in this conference, we’re going to try to make an impact on the national level.”

Going into conference, Lusitana said he just hoped the girls would put out their best.

“I’m going to use my inner Rocky Long here and say if we run really well we should finish in the top ten,” he said.

Team captain Lily Seynaeve placed 53/83 with a time of 22:45.95 at the championship in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. Teammates Cindy Flores (24:42.16) and Chrissy Calain (25:44.50) placed 78 and 81, respectively.

Seynaeve said the tiny team has a big bond.

“Some people view [our numbers] negatively, but I look at it more positively,” she said. “We’re closer together. We know each other really well, and it really makes trust important. You have to be on it every single day, there are no excuses. If you fail, you see it, and the rest of your team fails with you, so we try to succeed together. It really pushes us, so in that light it’s a good thing.”

Senior Cindy Flores, an 800 runner during track season who runs cross country to stay conditioned, said size should never matter.

“My theory is quality over quantity,” she said. “The quality is very good, so honestly the numbers don’t really matter.”

Although Seynaeve attributes much of the team’s chemistry to their small size, Lusitana said her leadership as captain has been an integral facet of the shaping the team this season.

“She’s the type of athlete any coach would love to have,” said Lusitana of the former walk-on. “She’s a great citizen and she does all the little things needed to excel, and is, of course, at the top of her class academically.”

Lusitana said the senior Aztec takes her leadership role seriously, providing support for her teammates in a very genuine, organic way, and leads by her example of persistence, organization and regimen. Her ability to excel in the little things sets her apart, he said.

“She makes sure after she finishes her workout she’s doing drills and stretching and the type of things that athletes take a shortcut on because they can,” said Lusitana.

But going the distance, for Seynaeve, means more than post-practice strength workouts and ice baths.

“We start training in the middle of May, and we go all the way to the end of November, so it’s a long stretch of time,” said Seynaeve. “It’s every day out there, I run like 70- to 75-mile weeks, so by November you get a little tired.”

The Aztecs competed in their first official meet on September 2 at the Mark Covert Classic (5K) in Brea, California, taking 3rd/4 (87).  Their last scheduled meet is the NCAA West Regionals on Nov. 10.

Lusitana, who is new to the Aztec coaching staff, said the team is looking forward to growing and moving forward.

“The season’s been good,” he said. “It’s been a feeling out process for the girls and myself because i’m new. It’s always interesting to come in new and figure out people. But all the girls are great to work with. They’re all top notch athletes.”

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