SRJC cross country teams enjoy breakthrough season

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A breakthrough Santa Rosa Junior College cross country campaign has both the men and the women aiming higher.

The squads each achieved this season’s ultimate goal of qualifying for the California Community College Athletic Association championships.

Santa Rosa last sent both teams to state in 1997.

With many top runners returning and a large, talented group of newcomers expected, Santa Rosa won’t surprise next season with even better results.

“This gives the team momentum. We’re running at a whole new level,” said Cristian Nazarek, out of Santa Rosa High.

Another freshman runner coming back is Jaime Silva, from Piner.

The pair led Santa Rosa’s men to second-place finishes in the Big 8 conference and at the NorCal finals.

“We’re excited,” Silva said.

“We think we can come back even stronger next year.”

Also taking second at the conference and regional championships was the women’s team. Top runner Taylor Falk, with the highest state finish among SRJC men and women, likely will be competing at a four-year college next year.

From Casa Grande High, Falk’s strong results and joining teammates talking up the SRJC program at high school meets should boost recruiting.

“It’s a great place to run. This was close to home to see where my running takes me,” Falk said.

The opportunity to train athletes of varying abilities with drive and willingness to be coached was the reward for second-year coach David Wellman.

“This year was pretty amazing,” Wellman said.

“They all stepped up and ran really well.”

Managing weekly mileage and preventing injury helped the teams run their best in the biggest meets.

At the NorCal finals, the second-place finishes for the men and women equaled the best results ever for the two squads. Both teams also placed second in 1987, and the men also took second at NorCal on three other occasions.

Nazarek led the men with a seventh place. Falk paced the women with a fifth place.

“It all depends on that day, but we kept getting better,” Falk said.

Healthy and ready to roll at the state championships, the Santa Rosa squads faced mighty tests in Fresno.

The fields were huge — 27 teams in each race — and the Southern California half was loaded with top teams.

Santa Rosa’s men and women finished outside the top ten in both races.

Still, the runners came away with valuable experience.

One is to stick with your pace even as runners jostle for position much of the race.

“Throughout the race you are fighting for position,” Nazarek said. “You’re running against the best of the best.”

Such a challenge is one the Santa Rosa cross country teams seek to take on again next season.

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