SIGNAL PEAK – Last year was a lost year for Central Arizona College cross country, which did not compete due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With things back to semi-normal, the men’s and women’s teams are expected to once again be among the elite at the junior college level.
“We’re happy and very thankful to be racing,” second-year coach Jon Harmon said.
Harmon replaced Paul Tavares, who retired after the 2019 season. Harmon, a former CAC runner, was an assistant coach from 2011-19 who mainly coached the men. The Vaqueros won four national titles during that span (2012, 2013, 2016, 2018) and finished second three times (2014, 2015, 2017).
With seven returners and seven newcomers on this year’s roster, Harmon has high hopes for his sixth-ranked (USTFCCCA poll) men’s team.
“Every day, the guys are pushing each other and making each other better,” he said.
Raphael Kitur, Kyle Partin and Davin Soto (Casa Grande Union) are the top three runners for the Vaqueros. The other four lineup positions on race day will be up for grabs.
Depending on practice performance, “someone could step up and take someone else’s spot,” Harmon said.
His main concern will be lowering “the time gap between the fourth and seventh runners.”
Kitur did not compete in CAC’s first two meets. Christian Franklin was the No. 1 runner for the Vaqueros in the Sept. 18 Riverside (California) Invitational, followed by Soto, Partin, James Fincher, Alazar Getahun, Salat Ibrahim and Joseph Meagher.
Rounding out the roster are Joseph Carlson (CG Union), Christian Barreto, Nolan Begaye, Hayden Gelder, Benjamin Morfin and Nicholas Smith – who was raised mainly in Casa Grande.
The CAC women are ranked fourth in the latest USTFCCCA poll. Ariz Duarte is the top runner for the Vaqueras, followed by Beatice Keditukei, Makena Thornton, Anette Carrasco Cota, Jaedyn Brown, Bella Gallo and Lana Reid.
Harmon said Lisbet Porras (CG Union) is rounding into form while coming off a knee injury and “should be in the top five by the end of the year.”
The roster also includes Divine Ibarra (Vista Grande) and Cameron Nelson.
“We don’t have that heavy hitter, a girl that’s going to be in the top three in the nation, but our one through seven will be tightly packed,” Harmon said. “That should help us.”
The Vaqueras won NJCAA titles in 2005 and 2009. They finished second at nationals six times in seven years from 2011-2017.
The teams practice from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. five days a week – six if there is no meet scheduled – and two days a week in the afternoon. Harmon said the men put in 60-70 miles per week and the women log 50-60 miles.
Harmon’s assistant coach is Cristina Salcido-Grigg, who is Vista Grande’s head coach for cross country and track.
This year’s NJCAA Championships will be held on November 13 in Richmond, Virginia.
The teams have an October 9 home meet, the CAMPY Invitational on the Signal Peak campus. This will be a first-time event honoring retired CAC sports luminaries Chuck Schnoor (athletic director, men’s basketball and women’s basketball coach), Al Shirley (track coach), Mike Gray (cross country and track coach), Paul Tavares (cross country and track coach) and George Young (athletic director, cross country and track coach). Young also is a four-time Olympian who won the bronze medal in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 1968 Mexico City Games.
The men’s 8-kilometer race begins at 7 a.m., followed by the women’s 5K race at 7:45 a.m.