The 2011 cross country season is under way and La Verne’s team is on a mission to continue the improvement they have experienced under the direction of head coach Michael Atwood.
Since Atwood became head coach the team has steadily improved, which became very noticeable last season when both men’s and women’s teams found success in the conference championships.
At the 2010 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships, the men’s team finished third overall behind Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer, earning its best place since 2002.
At the 2010 NCAA Division III West Region Championships in Salem, Ore., the men’s team placed seventh and the women’s team came in 12th, its highest finish ever.
Both cross country teams are hoping to improve on last year’s performance.
“(This season) is going to be a lot better than last year,” junior Alex Forbess said. “We have all our runners back and have a talented group of freshmen. I’m excited about it.”
“We have grown tremendously the past three seasons,” said Micaela Castillo, who is starting her fourth year running for La Verne.
Atwood has a few ideas in mind for what he would like the teams to accomplish this season, but did not want to say what they were until a few weeks of competition had been completed and he had a better idea of what goals were realistic.
Although it is early in the season, the men’s team is showing strength in its depth.
“Our 3-7 place finishers could change every week,” Atwood said. “For the second year in a row we finally have some solid runners up front.”
The women’s team is also showing promise in the form of teamwork.
“For the first time in a long time we have good leadership and good pairs of runners that have similar abilities,” Atwood said. “It’s good for training and racing.”
Atwood also looks to improve on the team’s performance by analyzing opposing team’s faults.
“I’m pretty detail oriented,” Atwood said. “I’m going to look at every detail and use it to my advantage. I’ll find other teams’ weaknesses and exploit them.”
For his personal coaching goals this season, Atwood wants to maintain his unique and fun coaching style while keeping the runners productive.
Part of Atwood’s coaching routine is inspiring the team with music.
“No other coach starts their practices with ‘Time to Get Tough’ by the Aggrolites,” Atwood said. “I use music as a motivation. I use it to get fired up.”
As a senior, Castillo’s goal is to have her personal best season.
“I would like to gain all-region honors and all-conference honors,” Castillo said.
Forbess is also setting the bar high for this year.
“I want to make it to nationals,” Forbess said.
Both men’s and women’s teams began training for the 2011 season with Atwood on Aug. 26, but have been practicing on their own the entire summer.
To keep their stamina at a high level, the team members run several miles each week.
“The top guys are running 80-100 miles a week,” Atwood said. “The top girls run about 60 miles per week, but most are running 50 miles a week.”
On Sept. 3, the men’s team finished eighth at the Cal State Fullerton Invitational and the women’s team placed 14th.
The UC Irvine Invitational on Sept. 10 brought a fourth place finish for the men.
Up next for La Verne’s cross country teams is the Pomona-Pitzer Invitational at 9 a.m. on Oct. 1 at Pomona College.
Allison Lavelle can be reached at email@example.com.