The men’s cross country team has set the bar high this year, with expectations of returning to the national championships.
The men’s cross country team was ranked preseason No. 5 in the region.
“We want to be in contention for a national meet berth, and that will probably take a third-place finish in the region,” head coach Bryan George said.
“The rankings don’t mean anything quite frankly. They are fun to look at from time to time, but the results are what matter.” he said.
Junior Bryan Hayes, senior Jayden Earlywine, sophomore Tanner Long and several more could be the recipe to proving George’s proving winning type philosophies and ideas are being put to action.
“Everyone knows what I expect of them this year,” George said.
“I have high expectations for them and I hold myself to the same standard. It’s a reciprocal relationship.”
The team finished fourth last season in conference.
“Any time you have new ideas, I think people need to see them work before they fully buy into it,” George said.
“As a first-year coach you don’t have that advantage initially. But as we advance through the year more and more people experienced success and bought into the system.” he said.
On Aug. 30, the team kicked off its season with a win at the Redlands Invitational.
Hayes took second, Long took fourth, Earlywine took ninth, and freshman Alec Franco took 10th respectively.
“A win was nice out of it, but primarily the plan going into it was pack running as coach emphasized,” Earlywine said.
“He really wanted us to work together, and he had me pace some of the freshmen so they weren’t overly intimidated of their first college race.” he said.
Hayes also finished 67th in the country out of 275 at the national meet in Indiana on Nov. 21 at a time of 25:42.4 and ranked third among all other Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference runners.
“I perform under pressure, I always have,” Hayes said.
“It does get stressful sometimes, sometimes your body doesn’t feel right and you don’t feel like running, but you still got to go out there and perform. I am willing to do that no matter what.” he said.
Hayes hopes to finish as an All-American this year, as he missed it by nearly 10 seconds last year in the final meet.
Hayes said that last year’s fourth-place finish in conference was definitely one of the highlights.
“There is a lot that needs to be worked on, this is a sport where everything needs to be fine tuned and tweaked,” Hayes said.
“This sure we have been fine-tuning our training more. Last year it was like okay go do this, and we want to do it the right way or the way coach want us to. But this year we are perfecting coaches training strategies.” he said.
Earlywine had a personal best time of 26:20.71 that he completed at the NCAA Division III West Region Cross Country Championships on Nov. 10 in Salem, Oregon last season.
“With my experience, I have to always be consistent whether it’s on a mental state or physical state to help keep the team focused,” Earlywine said.
“I think that’s a job as a senior, is to keep everyone focused and on their game so we all pull together as a team. It’s very easy to get distracted, and to be intimidated going into these meets as an underclassmen.” he said.
The team raced in the UCI Invitational Sept. 6. Earlywine finished 40th overall in the meet out of 108 runners, coming in at 27:36.4.
Hayes finished seconds after him to take 41st, Long and Alec Franco finished 47th and 54th respectively.
On Saturday, the team raced in the Stanford Invitational and finished 17th overall of all non-Division I schools as a team.
Individually, Hayes finished 114 out of 361 runners at a time of 25:18. Earlywine finished shortly behind Hayes with a personal best time of 26:03 and 213 overall.
Freshman Alec Franco finished shortly after in 323rd place with personal best time of 27:36.
“I am definitely more of a silent leader, where Jayden is more vocal,” Hayes said.
“And we definitely work well as a team that way, I believe.”
The team’s next meet is the SCIAC Multi-Dual Oct. 17 at La Mirada Park.
Hal Hargrave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.