By Steve Carpenter
HCCSports Information Director
Friday, September 2, 2011
One year ago when Hutchinson Community College cross country coach Dave Smith looked at his men’s and women’s rosters he saw a women’s team with a firm sophomore base and a men’s team with little collegiate experience.
That flip-flops in 2011 as Smith welcomes a large group of sophomores on his men’s team and just two returning runners for theHCCwomen, a team that competed at the NJCAA national championships last season.
Smith welcomed 14 men’s runners and eight women’s runners to 2011 preseason workouts. The Blue Dragons will see their first action of the season on Saturday at the Wichita State/JK Gold Classic at Raft Golf Course inAugusta. The 4K women’s race begins at9 a.m.and the 6K men’s race starts at9:45 a.m.
“That’s jumping feet first into the fire,” said Smith about competing against NCAA Division I competition right out of the chute. “Our freshmen last year learned that you don’t have to compete against an NCAA Division I Top 10 runner. You need to run your pace and we learned that last year. I also like the fact it’s a little shorter than what we will run next week and we will work into that gradually.
“I want the kids to just run with the runners around them and don’t pay too much attention if they are Division I or juco, just run your race.”
In just all but a few days since practice began, the Blue Dragons have had to endure 100-degree weather to train in.
But with several runners able to utilize morning workouts, Smith has been happy with the progression of his teams.
“I am really surprised where we are based on the heat that we’ve had to run in,” Smith said. “We’ve had a lot more morning workouts and when the kids had conflicts, they’ve ran at night. The kids who have run in the mornings have had super workouts.”
Blue Dragon fans will once again have a chance to see a home meet this season. The second annual Blue Dragon Invitational will be atRiceParkon September 17.
As freshmen, Julio Martinez (Phoenix,AZ) and Skylar Gutierrez (Wichita) established themselves as the top two runners in 2010 until injuries slowedMartinez. This season,Martinezstarts healthy while Gutierrez will miss at least the first few meets with an injury.
Martinezfinished either first or second in the Dragons’ first six meets last season and earned two Top 10 finishes. His best 8K time was 27 minutes, 41.16 seconds atEmporiaState. But he was injured before theFortHaysStatemeet and never returned to form.
Gutierrez figured in the team scoring at every meet last season, including winning the Blue Dragon Invitational. His best 8K time was 26:41.10 atFortHaysState.
“Julio and Skylar being healthy they should be in the top 2 or 3 for us at every meet,” Smith said. “Julio has looked very good, but Skylar is hurt.
“On paper, Julio should be leading this crew, but 2 through 9, I wouldn’t want to try and figure out who is going to be in there. The nice part is that we all don’t have to have a great race on a day. We can have people do well one week and others step up next week.”
Also returning from last season are Brandon Massey (Goddard), Nic Rogers (Hutchinson) and Kyle Sooter (Halstead). Lane Berger (Blue Rapids) is another sophomore.
“It’s nice to have them coming back,” Smith said of his sophomores. “It gives us some experience to build around.”
The freshmen are Trent Bartlett (Whitewater), Taylor Frey (Topeka), Austin Leattau (Newton), Enrique Sanchez (Plains), Gavin Scheibe (Axtell), Andy Schleps (Wichita), Zach Weber (Hesston) and Isaac Williams (Pretty Prairie).
“They know how to compete. They are going to have to learn how to compete at this level,” Smith said. “They have all ran in some big-time races at the high school level. The first two or three meets they will be on a learning curve.”
Two sophomores and six freshmen make up the 2011HCCwomen’s cross country team.
“We are going to have to rely on the freshmen from Day 1,” Smith said. “(The freshmen) act like they know how to do it. They are good workers and they have good attitudes. We will see where that gets them.”
Returning runners are Jessica Smith (Learned) and Alexis Davis (Salina).
Smith missed five meets last season, including the final four. Her best 5K time was 23:33.86 atEmporia
Daviswas in the team top five twice last season, posting a low 5K time of 23:00.70 atFortHaysState.
Neither sophomore ran at the NJCAA National championships in 2010.
Smith’s freshmen are Amber Boos (Onega), Maria Fernandez (Burrton), Desha Johnson (Hutchinson),
Shane Prescott (Learned), Taylor Stewart (Hays) and Rebecca Sweet (Wamego).
“At least through the top five, we have a shot to start where the top five started last year,” Smith said. “The real key will be not having depth. I look for them to start out well and get better.”