by Nick Peralta
For the fourth year in a row, Riverside City College’s men’s cross country team will take home the Orange Empire Conference Championship.
Along with this being the fourth consecutive year that RCC has taken home the divisional title, the Tigers have now claimed the top spot in the OEC for the eighth time in the last 11 years after finishing with an overall time of 1:50:18 to equal 33 points.
The distinction this year was that they did so with some of their best runners sidelined from injury and despite this, they managed their way to victory all the same.
“It was really fun,” cross country head coach Jim McCarron said. “We had our third, fourth and fifth men injured and the team still won so the players that competed stepped up. I’m a big believer in having a big team so if somebody gets injured, somebody steps up for them. We’ve always had big teams and this was proof that it is important to have them.”
With several injuries marring the main roster in the lead up to the Oct. 26 home showdown for the divisional title, RCC was forced to adjust their overall lineup with three alternate freshmen runners Kevin Lopez and Mohammad Mohamad as well as sophomore Nathaniel Steele.
Lopez placed eighth with a mark of 22:18.6, while Steele followed just behind him with a mark of 22:23.0 to earn ninth place.
Of the runners that remained healthy enough to compete however was the reigning 2017 OEC Men’s Cross Country Runner of the Year Enrique Villa.
Villa, who has remained a consistently competitive runner, commanded the field to haul in his second-consecutive title. He placed approximately 16 seconds ahead of the second place finisher from Santa Ana College with a mark of 21:23.1.
“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.”
Another Tigers runner that saw success as he landed in the top 15 was sophomore Austin Dai who placed fourth overall with a 21:47.3 reading.
“I have gotten better than I was last year in terms of my run time,” Dai said. “My position on the team has improved. Last year I was the fifth man. This year I am the second man.”
Dai has emerged this season as an elite athlete on the team this year, showing improvement from the 2017 campaign that has resulted in success across the 2018 cross country season.
“Austin is a young man that is pretty typical in our program,” McCarron said. “Where we get good athletes from local high schools and he had a really good coach and did well there. In his two years here, he has just sprouted. His improvement has been fantastic. When you ask him to do something he just gets it and he does it. He believes in himself, which is important.”
With the conference crown once again secured, the Tigers now look ahead to the 2018 California Community College Athletic Association State Championships.
In 2017, the Tigers fell just short of a first place title earning victory, losing to Mt. San Antonio College by a slim margin of less than one second.
In 2016, the Tigers successfully captured the state title. This was the first state championship for the men’s cross country team in 22 years up until that point.
McCarron has renovated the cross country team in the last several years in the hopes of mirroring the success that the men’s team has seen in track and field as McCarron has brought in six state titles in track and field home for RCC.
“Coach McCarron has done pretty well this season as head coach,” Dai said. “The training has been pretty good. In terms of getting us ready for state he’s taken us to a course that will kind of simulate the course at state. This is a great way to help get us ready for the race.”
With a young but determined team, RCC is as determined as ever to show off the continued progress that has elevated the Tigers’ status as one of the best cross country teams in California. The CCCAA State Championship takes place Nov. 17 and will be held at the Woodward Park in Fresno.
“We have a lot of work to do in preparation,” McCarron said. “We’re tuning the guys up and if they run the way we think that they can run, they’ll be top five team at state, with an outside chance of winning. Like any race we ever do, it is up to them. They’ll be ready. They just have to go execute the race and decide what place they want to get. We have a race plan for them and that race plan is very specific. We believe in it. I think we should be in the top seven for sure with a good chance of being in the top five. If the team follows the race plan perfectly they will win it. They will win the state championship.”