A dozen Vulcan cross-country runners will test their legs this Saturday when the Pacific West Conference kicks off their season with a meet at Brigham Young University in Laie on Oahu.
Seven home grown Big Island harriers anchor a solid five women and seven men Vulcan squad into the 2010 fall cross-country season.
“Our men should be competitive in the PacWest Conference,” veteran Vulcan coach Jaime Guerpo said. “Our women should be competitive too as both squads are hard working, but the ladies are lacking in race experience.”
Leading the way for the men is team captain Keoni Ucker a former prep star with Christian Liberty Academy in Keaau.
“I’m really excited about our first meet,” Ucker said. “I’m hoping to be in the top five, but you never know what to expect competition wise.”
Ucker began the preseason by winning the Big Island Sports Hall of Fame 5K on August 22, running away from the rest of his teammates and the rest of the field.
“I think I’m prepared, more so than in past years. I’ve done a long run each week of one and a half hours and I’m now up to doing two hour runs,” Ucker said.
In his senior year at CLA, 2007, Ucker won the state championship in the 1500 meter race and there was a lot of expectations placed upon him after he signed with the Vulcan’s.
“I tend to put too much pressure on myself and I stress out,” Ucker said. “I am trying to learn to relax more while running my hardest in each and every race.”
Hawaii Pacific University and BYU-Hawaii are the two teams to beat this season in the PacWest, according to Guerpo.
Joining Ucker is Nick Hagemann, Keaau; James Imai, Waiakea; Justin Pang, CLA; Jerry Nourrie, Honokaa; Paul Mauser, Oregon; and Zach Johnson from Wisconsin.
Hagemann is considered the number two runner on the team and like Ucker has stepped up his workouts by incorporating more hills and longer runs.
“I had an off year last year as I suffered through a nagging injury,” Hagemann said. “I feel better prepared for this season and have set my goals on getting into the top ten at PacWest.”
During his senior year at Keaau, 2008, Hagemann became the Big Island Interscholastic Federation 1500 meter champion and was fourth in the state for that event.
“I like running on the colligate level and have learned to practice good time management so that I can juggle school, studying, work and practice,” he said.
“The real heavy team favorites in the PacWest is the Academy of Arts from San Francisco who have 12 Kenyans running on their team. Four of those runners were in the top of the PacWest last season,” Guerpo said.
The girl’s squad is led by two time all-PacWest standout, Kirsta Andrew who is originally from California. Joining Andrew will be Lilianna Desmither from Hilo, Kapua Lapera, Kau; Rachel Clute, Castle, and newcomer Kaylene Peric a UHH tennis player who is trying her hand at cross-country.
Guerpo believes that two times defending conference champion, BYU-Hawaii has the inside track to repeating. “BYU has experience on their side and HPU has added Maui high school champion, Hailey Grossman, to their roster which will make them even stronger,” Coach Guerpo said.
The Vulcan’s have a two time champion of their own in Andrew who won all-PacWest honors for her athletic ability and her classroom skills.
Andrew was a first team all-PacWest selection as a freshman and on the second team during her sophomore year. “I had an off year last year and have set my goal at making the first team this year,” Andrew said.
Besides her athletic skills Andrew carries a 3.79 cumulative average in the classroom.
“My off season training included more intense tempo runs with some friends from my home town in California,” Andrew said. “I think I’m ready for Saturday’s season opener and with the addition of Kaylene (Peric) we should be very competitive.”
Since joining the Vulcan squad as a walk on two weeks ago Peric has been able to run with Andrew during practice sessions, according to Guerpo.
“Kaylene played tennis for UH Hilo last season and became a surprise walk on for us this season,” Guerpo said. “She’s going to be right up there with Kirsta as she’s already proven herself at a fun run in Hilo a few weeks ago.”
“Krista (Andrew) is our women’s team captain and is definitely a leader for our team,” Guerpo said. “We need her experience and leadership to help the other ladies on the team.”
The addition of Rachel Clute, a freshman, is a big question mark for the team as she comes to the Vulcan’s better known for her soccer skills than her running ability.
“Rachel has never run cross country and comes to us with an extensive soccer background,” Guerpo said. “I think she will develop into a good runner as she gains experience.”
The cards will all unfold this Saturday when UHH takes their two teams to Oahu for the season opener.