Benefield: Santa Rosa Junior College cross country team loads up for another run
Santa Rosa Junior College cross country coach David Wellman looked around at the bodies sprawled hither and yon, everyone vying for a small slice of sidewalk on which to do abdominal work. It was just too crowded. It was clear he’d have to find a new space to do this particular team workout going forward.
But he was smiling as he said it.
“That is one of the reasons the team is going to do so well,” he said. “In the past, it’s been 20 on the roster and 11 would show up.”
On Wednesday morning, there were 24 athletes at the voluntary workout done in part on the trails of Annadel-Trione State Park and in part in this Bennett Valley neighborhood, where runners were put through drills and then a series of core exercises. He had two runners on vacation, two more were sick — but the vast majority of his bulging roster was there on the ground, elbowing for a bit of space on the pavement.
“This year we are maybe missing two or three people a day — which is incredible, that commitment,” he said.
Success for the Bear Cubs this season won’t come only because they have strong numbers, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
“I think it’s just the character of the athletes we have this year,” Wellman said. “Maybe there is a little more excitement about the team because somebody heard, ‘This person is going to be out.’ Through the grapevine, the excitement kind of grew.”
Nowhere is the excitement more palpable than on the women’s side. The women are defending Big 8 Conference champs and finished second at the NorCal regional championship. And everyone on that roster is back, Wellman said.
“We are returning the entire team from last year … plus adding four freshmen right up there with our second and third from last year,” he said. “As long as we stay healthy, we should be very competitive.”
In addition to sophomore stalwarts Ana Palafox out of Vintage High, and twins Evelin and Jackie Ramirez (who graduated from El Molino), the Bear Cubs add Santa Rosa High grads Bria Keelty and Katrina Frandsen into the upper echelon of their ranks. There are even more runners just behind that group.
“That will really help out in moving our pack up a little further,” Wellman said. “Last year was a great freshman class and this year is just as good as last year’s. It kind of has multiplied.”
To maximize his multiplication of talent, Wellman has adjusted his workouts at this early point in the season. He’s setting the pace of training runs for a group of four to five runners, rather than giving runners a target pace unique to them. The idea is for the fastest runner in the group to lead the pace and teammates learn how to hang on as a group.
“I’ve started to realize that in cross country you need that pack mentality,” he said. “The people in the back have to work a little bit harder.”
When I asked freshmen Keelty and Frandsen about those workouts, they both laughed.
“It’s humbling,” Frandsen said.
But in a good way.