Vulcan Women Cross Country a New Beginning
Nearly two years after the Athletic Department dealt Coach’s Jaime Guerpo severe budget cuts which caused the University of Hawaii at Hilo to eliminate his men’s cross country program the coach is again challenged to keep the women’s program alive.
All scholarships have been eliminated and fundraising for travel expenses has been commonplace.
Such was the case this past Saturday when Guerpo’s women’s team set out to host a 5k fundraiser on the grounds of the Naniloa Golf Course and opened it to the public in an attempt to raise additional revenue in his barebones women’s harrier program.
“We have roughly $15,000 to cover our seven off island trips and some additional funds for miscellaneous items such as warm-up uniforms,” Guerpo said.
Guerpo also has the luxury of offering a couple of scholarships, something that hasn’t happened in the past few years.
“This year we have money for scholarships to maybe get two really good athletes and 4 in-between athletes,” Guerpo said.
Through his efforts in keeping the women’s program together Guerpo has managed to keep a young team intact.
The eldest on the squad is Justina Wood, a senior from Hawaii Preparatory Academy.
Two sophomores in Hilo High School’s Nadia Ramirez and Jordan Bledsoe from Lincoln, Nebraska. Two freshmen in Keri Fujiwara from Waipahu who was 5th in the State during the finals of the 3K and Britni Napihaa from Kamehameha-Big Island who made the State qualifier in the 800 meter run.
“Britni came out for track in her junior year and ended up running in the high 2:40’s” Joel Truesdell her former prep coach said. “I believe she should continue to improve under Coach Jaime. She is extremely coachable and should take a couple of minutes off of her best high school time and continue to improve in the coming years.”
“Right now I am carrying 6 on the team, but I would like to carry 7,” Guerpo said. “We just acquired Jen Lozano, a senior and she just joined to team today.” “Nadia was sick for today’s race and we wanted to keep her away from her teammates as not to spread anything around.”
Saturdays 5K was not only to raise additional funds but to see where his women’s team pans out because it served as a time trial under race conditions for his squad.
Coming out on top for the Vulcan ladies was first year collegiate runner Keri Fujiwara who was wearing bright pink shoes.
“I know our girls can run faster,” a humble Fujiwara said. “I don’t think the color of the shoes had anything to do with it.”
The top prep runner, and leading all women into the finish chute, was Carmen Garson Shumway of Hilo High in a time of 21 minutes 47 seconds.
“It was just a fun race for us girls,” Garson Shumway said. “I ran together with Mehana the entire way.” Viking team mate Mehana Sabado-Halpern was close behind Garson Shumway to make it a 1-2 overall finish for the prep stars.
Leading the way for the men and the overall winner was Volcano’s Billy “the Ghost” Barnett in 17:07. Barnett is undefeated in local competition dating back to 2009 and is considered the fastest local runner on the Big Island.
“It’s just to be out here again as doctors told me I’d be out of commission for six months after I fell off my skate board and crack my skull,” Barnett said.
Barnett had swelling and bleeding in the brain and needed to be treated at Queens Hospital on Oahu.
Now just two months after being released from the Hospital he is on the road to recovery and back to his winning ways.
Barnett had his hands full as he was challenged by the two Chris’ in Mosch and Gregory. Mosch the winner of the EMS 5K and on break from the University of Oregon and Gregory winner of the Mana 10 miler was prepared to take over the lead when Barnett made a wrong turn on the course.
Ironically Gregory transferred to the UHH program with hopes of being a walk on cross country runner the year that the Vulcan’s dropped the men’s program.
But the wrong turn on the course cost Barnett a few seconds and not enough to take the win away from him.
Guerpo had a successful fundraiser event as more that 100 people came out in support of the Vulcan program.
The Lady Vuls did not wear bib numbers so there weren’t official times for them but Keri Fujiwara was first on the team, followed by Jordan Bledsoe, Justina Wood, Jen Lozano and Britni Napihaa which finished 5th on the team according to Guerpo.
“I thought it was a fun run and I just wanted to run with the team,” Bledsoe said. “I think I ran about 25 minutes flat. It looks like we’re going to have a strong team this season and we’ll improve over last season.”
“We didn’t have Nadia (Ramirez) running today and she should be one of our top girls once she is healthy,” Guerpo said.
Ramirez might be the key in the Vulcan’s run for success.
“She is a strong runner and I’m optimistic we will do well this year,” Bledsoe said. “We have time trials throughout the season and we know what we are capable of doing.”
“We had a record number of registered participants this year (114),” Guerpo said. “It seems like each year we keep getting bigger and bigger and we’re very thankful for the public’s support.”
The Lady Vuls open their Pac West season on Sept 1st with a meet hosted by HPU on the grounds of Kualoa Ranch on Oahu.