By Nick Peralta
In recent years, Riverside City College has had continued success when it comes to their men’s track team.
In the 2018 cross country season, this remains no exception.
Now halfway through the season, the Tigers men’s cross country team has their eye on a potential Orange Empire Conference title for what would be their fourth straight, should they succeed. RCC has garnered a large bulk of accolades over the last 15 years and this is all thanks to the program established by longtime head coach Jim McCarron.
McCarron has captained both the track and field and cross country programs at RCC for nearly 13 years now. Since his hiring back in 2006, McCarron has blazed an immense trail of success.
“When I first got the job, I got it five days before the season started in 2006, we finished 28th in the state that year,” McCarron said. “Ever since then, we’ve always finished a top three team.”
Across cross country, which runs throughout the fall semester, and track and field, which runs throughout the spring semester, the men’s team has won a California Community College Athletic Association state championship an impressive seven times.
McCarron believes that the foundation of that success is built not only upon the program that he and his supporting coaches have created, but also from the belief in his student athletes as well.
“We have won state seven times in 13 years,” McCarron said. “I think it’s due to building a program. It’s attributed to a lot of different things. For instance it’s a program that I believed in, and that the coaching staff buys into. I have a great coaching staff that really puts a lot of work in and that helps guide the students to success. So if the athletes don’t buy into the program, it doesn’t work.”
The program’s success is further allocated by the first ranked runner on the Tigers team, Enrique Villa, who last year earned the OEC Individual Championship crown after marginally defeating his then-teammate, Ricardo Cardenas.
“The coaching staff is strong,” Villa said. “They know what they’re doing, and how to do it. They always have a game plan. Like a blueprint on what we need to do and what we need to focus on. Most importantly, how we need to improve our skills.”
Villa was one of the more impressive freshmen on the track team last season and garnered a handful of accolades such as the aforementioned OEC Individual title, multiple first and second place finishes across several invitationals, the 2017 All-American honors as well as OEC Runner of the Year.
Villa is a prime example of what McCarron’s coaching is capable of achieving, a fact Villa knew quite well when deciding which community college he was looking to compete for.
“When I first got here, I knew the team here at RCC was going to be good,” Villa said. “I had a former teammate from high school that told me about this school. So I knew going into my first school semester here, I was aware that it was going to be something good for me. So far I feel like it’s going pretty good.”
Thus far, the Tigers have accomplished much en route to a showdown for the OEC title, placing inside the top four in four of the five invitationals that they have competed in this season.
To begin the season, RCC placed first overall at the Ventura Invitational with Villa, Austin Dai and Tyler Graves all placing inside the top ten individually. The team would then place second at the Palomar Invitational where Villa, Dai and Graves again submitted solid performances. After a more moderate fourth place finish at the Southern California Preview, freshmen runners Mohammed Mohamed and Nathaniel Steele got the chance to show how the freshmen on the team were improving as they contributed to a second place team placing at the Golden West Invitational.
“It’s a young team this season,” McCarron said. “They’re growing and there’s a lot of growth going on. When you have a young team, they may fall down a lot so it’s important that they get back up and learn. Earlier in the season it had been a struggle, but they’re starting to get it, and understand the program and the process involved to getting better. It’s starting to show itself. I’d say three quarters of our guys are freshmen. It’s a really young team. It’s good to have sophomore’s like Enrique and Austin here to lead, but there is a big learning curve. But we’re starting to get that figured out.”
The Tigers, now more than halfway through the season, have a stern goal in mind: reclaiming the OEC title. From there they will also look to claim the Southern California Championships. After that? The coveted CCCAA state championship.
“The number one reason I coach is to help young men get the experience that I got,” McCarron said. “I want them to know what it’s like to compete at a Division 1 university. I was a community college guy. I had to earn my way to a university. I was able to do that and I want to give that back. First and foremost, helping theses student athletes accomplish that is the biggest reason why I am here. Next would be to win the state championships.”