Cross country: Moving on up

After finishing in fifth place in the Western State Conference, the Santa Monica College men's cross country team is looking ahead to the Southern California regional championships. "We've done really well," said head coach Eric Barron. "I think the men had a good training season throughout the summer, so they came into the season more fit to begin with."

Although not every member of the team directly attributed to the team's point score, Barron emphasized that they still played a factor on the team.

"There is a lot of depth on the men's team, so even though five guys score, we've probably had eight or nine people fill in a supporting role," he said.

Assistant coach Josh Garrett said he feels that if the team can remain healthy for the remainder of the season, then they have a legitimate shot at making the state meet for the first time in nearly a decade. Although making the regional championships would seem like a a milestone for other teams, Garrett said the team is exactly where it should be.

"It was expected, so it wasn't a surprise making it to that meet," he said. "We do everything we have to do to put ourselves in the best position to move forward and qualify for bigger meets."

The team has had its share of injuries this season, but welcomed the return of sophomore Stephen Loredo, who dealt with a type of bone tumor called osteochondroma that resulted in him missing a portion of his freshman year.

"It's like an extra bone in your leg, which is why I got it cut out and wasn't running," Loredo said. "After the surgery, everything felt better."

Despite the injuries, freshman standout Mario Lopez has been the team's star runner from the beginning of the season.

Lopez has taken it upon himself to motivate the team and push their potential as far as he believes it can go. He did not go into the season looking to be a leader, but after support from veterans on the team, he found his role.

"Everyone saw me as the leader, and at that point, I took it upon myself to do what I had to do and talk to them like, 'Hey, you can do this,'" said Lopez. "With a couple of injuries, we were able to deal with the cards we got dealt."

As the team continues to progress, Lopez said they are able to maintain their competitiveness while also being able to have fun and relax as a team.

"We joke around a lot," he said. "We don't take anything too seriously, but the guys know that when I'm practicing, I'm practicing."

The difference in passion from his current crop of runners compared to past teams has been of exceptional enjoyment for Barron.

"The students themselves are taking the sport very seriously," said Barron. "As a coach, that makes things more enjoyable because you have athletes that respect the sport, want to do well, and are willing to make sacrifices to do that."