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Almost the perfect storm.

Santa Rosa Junior College cross country coach David Wellman calls his crop of freshmen on the men’s squad “almost the perfect storm” of guys who were once competitors but are now teammates.

Someone even vaguely versed in the high school running scene might just stop at perfect.

The freshman class is a veritable who’s who from last year’s graduating class of the prep cross country and track elite: Nicholas Rauch, Adam Harwood and Zach Nussdorfer of North Coast Section champion Casa Grande; Brady Lane of El Molino, Justin Thurman of Santa Rosa, and Steve Adams of Cardinal Newman. Those big names have hung up their high school singlets and will now all compete in the blue and red of the Bear Cubs.

“It’s definitely the strongest and largest group we have had,” Wellman said.

Wellman said his final roster will likely have 10 freshmen and one sophomore: Nathan Bailey, who prepped at Rincon Valley Christian.

“With the crew we have, so far in the training, that little competing element has kind of creeped in but it’s a good competition,” Wellman said.

Even with the lineup they have, the Bear Cubs will certainly need a creeping feeling of competition. After all, they share a conference with American River College, owners of the California Community College Athletic Association state title in three of the past four years.

Still, call it freshman naiveté or just excited confidence, these guys have lofty goals.

Big 8 Championship? Doable. Make a run at the state top 10? Also doable.

“We all want to be here, to do our best,” said Lane, an All-Empire selection at El Molino before graduating last spring. “I want us to win the Big 8 this season.”

For many of these new Bear Cubs, this season represents a chance to train daily with guys who might have posed a significant threat last season, but who this season can offer the pace, pressure and encouragement that runners need to progress.

“It’s the first time I’ve been able to run with a big group of guys,” said Lane, who spent his senior year with just once cross country teammate. “For me, there is always someone pushing the pace.”

Pace pushers are not hard to come by with this group.

At a time trial at the junior college track on Friday, the race between teammates to assess fitness and get a baseline of race readiness, was a show of speed.

Rauch crossed first, followed by Lane and Thurman. Bailey, Adams and Harwood brought in the second group.

“It’s really fun and helpful to me. I know I have two guys around my (pace) who are pushing me a little bit harder,” Thurman, a second team All-Empire pick last year, said.

Wellman, who has led the Bear Cubs for the past four years, said this group could have the goods to challenge American River, the most dominant program in both the state and the Big 8 Conference in recent years.

“We have to work hard and stay healthy, but I think we have the horses that can do well,” he said.

While the freshmen might not have experience with the longer 4K collegiate course, they do have plenty of competitive prep cross country and track experience.

Rauch, who ran Empire bests in the 800 meters and 1600 meters last spring, qualifying for the CIF State Championships in both, appears to be the new leader of the pack. But he’s got some pretty fast company, especially in Brady and longtime friend Thurman.

“It’s really cool to call him a teammate,” Rauch said.

And solid teammates can be a runner’s greatest asset.

“Everyone pushes everyone but it makes for a better team. Suddenly everyone has to work a little harder to stay the fastest,” Wellman said.

But Wellman was quick to note that team comes first with this group — their personalities demand it. The yells of support at Friday’s competitive time trial were loud — and real. The congratulations at the conclusion were genuine.

“There really aren’t any egos out there which is great,” he said. “They understand the overall goal is to be the fastest team, not the fastest individual.”

So Wellman’s task in the coming season is to craft a team from a gaggle of super fast individuals; to be the captain of the ship in “the almost perfect storm.”

But Wellman and his squad want to wipe out the “almost” and stick with perfect.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.

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