On September 13th, Cyclones raced to the top at the Mills College Cross Country Invitational, placing overall third out of six competing schools. With three races under their belt in less than a month, the win only foreshadows what’s in store for the fiercely dedicated team.
“It’s a different year this year than I’ve ever seen before,” said Cross Country coach Laura Davis. “People are wanting to get out there and work and succeed. These are 24 really dedicated women.”
Mills hosted the annual invitational on a crisp Saturday morning where 14 schools were represented, six of which were full teams. To be qualified as a full team, a school needs at least five runners present at the meet. Among the schools represented were Sonoma State, Pacific University, DeAnza College, Simpson University, and Las Positas College.
Including runners and supporters, the campus was covered with over 200 people. In Richard’s Lot, where the race both started and ended, booths were set up with fruit and bagels for the runners, while another booth sold candy and t-shirts. Supporters cheered on the runners with homemade signs while music blasted from the speakers of Davis’ silver Volkswagon bug.
With nearly 50 volunteers available, most of which were students and APER staff, the Invitational sailed as smooth as the runners themselves.
The first event to take place was the women’s 5k race while the men’s 8k race took place soon after.
Races are scored not just by who came in first or second but by the addition of the ranking of the first five finishers from every team. The school with the lowest score wins.
Overall, Sonoma State came in first with Pacific in second and Mills following right behind.
As far as individual rankings go, Mills junior Lupe Cazares was first of the Cyclones to come in at 11th place overall with a time of 21:03, over a minute faster than her time at last year’s Invitational, while transfer student Angie Sandoval, a new addition to the team, was the second Cyclone to come in during the race with a time of 21:20, placing 13th overall. Perla Cantu was third of the Cyclones with a time of 23:54, and Lily Ann Page followed right on Cantu’s heels at 23:55.
Both Cantu and Page also cut their previous times, Cantu by 83 seconds, and Page by an impressive two minutes and five seconds.
According to Davis, many members of their team were able to cut their times by a minute or more. “A minute in a 5k is a lot of time so to have people cutting off a minute or more is a really huge thing,” said Davis.
Hanako Hjersman, a senior who has been with the team since last year, also shaved off an entire minute from last year’s time. “I was really happy with my new time,” said Hjersman. “I was a lot more prepared during this race because I was used to the course and because of my training.”
Besides athletes who’ve trained and prepared all summer, Davis also attributes the team’s success to new blood. “We have a lot of fresh energy on the team,” said Davis.
For freshwoman Kalisi Kupu, the Invitational was only her second race, yet she came in at a steady 31:32. “It felt good because we were running at home and I felt a lot more confidence. It was hard at certain points but the encouragement from other people was great.”
Besides the Mills Invitational, the team has also raced at Reno Twilight over the Labor Day weekend and at the Beaver Invitational at American River College the weekend of September 6th, where the team placed second.
Davis says this is the first team so far who she thinks can really give CAL State East Bay a run for their money during the Crystal Springs Invitational in November.
“This is the first team that really wants it. The fact that we can even think about it is huge,” she said.
According to Kupu, the team’s true success isn’t merely as a result of training. “We’re more than just a team,” says Kupu. “We’re a sisterhood.”