All New UHH cross country team opens the season at HPU on Saturday
Unless you’re a fan of high school sports you won’t recognize anyone of the ladies running on this year’s University of Hawaii cross country team.
Due to deep budget cuts in the Vulcan athletic program the men’s and women’s cross country teams were slated to hit the chopping block this season in an effort to save money.
But Coach Jaime Guerpo managed to find the resources, through a community effort, to save the women’s program as the Vulcan’s prepare for their season opener at the Hawaii Pacific University Invitational on Oahu this Saturday.
“We were only able to find enough cash to save the women’s program,” Guerpo said. “As a result we have six girls running for us and all of them have never run at the collegiate level.”
In cross country it takes five runners to score as a team and the sixth runner serves as the determining factor in case there is a scoring tie.
Guerpo’s, in his 13th season at the helm, has a bare bones budget that doesn’t provide money for scholarships and the money that he did raise is barely enough to fund a meager travel budget.
Despite the inexperience Guerpo is still hopeful that this year’s squad will improve on last year’s placing at conference.
“I expect us to do better than last year’s sixth place finish at the conference meet,” he said. “These girls are learning to bunch together as a team during practice and we should have a pretty good scoring team.”
The Vulcan’s will rely on four Big Island ladies to help them through the season.
Kamehameha’s Brithany Ariga, Waiakea’s Nikka Takane, Hawaii Prep’s Justina Wood and Hilo’s Nadia Ramirez will be joined by Papillion, Nebraska’s Jordan Bledsoe and Las Vegas, Nevada’s Stephanie Adams to pull together and represent UH Hilo’s harrier program.
Both Takane and Wood are academic seniors and the others on the Vulcan squad are true freshman.
While Takane brings with her four years of prep cross country running, Wood is a novice to distance running.
“Stina graduated in 2008 from HPA where she ran four years of track and played soccer all four years for me,” HPA athletic director Stephen Perry said of Wood. “She is a great competitive player; it must be the red hair.”
“I’m trying to make the adjustment to distance running,” Wood said. “I was a hurdler at HPA and I’m not used to running distances above 400 meters, but I’m trying to learn what I can from the other girls on the team.”
Guerpo tried to get Wood to come out for cross country last year, but she declined.
“With the budget cuts and the need to form a new team I decided to come out this year and see what I could do to help,” Wood said. “It’s all about being mentally strong and I’m motivated to do my best.”
Takane brings with her a distinguished career in long distance running as she has done numerous community races from 5K’s to the half marathon.
“I love running and since graduating from high school in 2008 I continued to run every day, usually 4 to 6 miles with my mom,” Takane said.
Coach Guerpo also asked Takane to come out for the team last season, but she declined.
“I always put academics first and last year I was worried that if I added in a sport my grades might drop,” Takane said. “I’m more confident this year, my senior year, and I’m on track to graduate with my Bachelor’s in May.”
Ariga cross country experience was limited as a first year runner senior at Kamehameha, but she managed to work her way into the varsity starting lineup, according to her high school Coach Joel Truesdell.
“Brithany is still learning the sport as she is a super nice girl from Hilo,” Truesdell said. “She has good speed and I can see her getting her time down to 21 minutes in a three mile race once she bonds with the team.”
With his six newly formed collegiate runners Coach Guerpo is optimistic that there training will produce good results.
“I run with the girls each day and I push them hard,” Guerpo said. “I remind them that the honeymoon is over and that they need to work hard and try their best each and every time out.”
But Guerpo also explains to his youthful group that running at a collegiate level is very different than what they are used to in high school.
“I give them lots of encouragement as I try to get them mentally prepared for the upcoming season,” Guerpo said. “I haven’t really pushed them hard physically yet, but that part will come soon enough.”
The new Vulcan harriers start their season with Hawaii Pacific University Invitational on Oahu this Saturday with some nervousness and anxiety.
“I’m very excited and I want to run,” Takane said. “I miss cross country from high school and I like being part of a team.”
The Vulcan’s are limited to hosting just one home town meet on October 8th and the rest of the season will be on the road.
“I expect these girls to represent Hilo well as they will gain much needed experience each week,” Guerpo said.