By Greg Price: CNJ Sports Writer
Surrounding the football field at Leon Williams Stadium is an oval, asphalt track where the Clovis cross country teams are now running 200-meter sprints, ranging from times of 28 to 40 seconds.
The arena is typically filled to the brim with Clovis football supporters on Friday nights in the fall. Yet on Wednesday the only thing filling the stadium is quiet — and a hard New Mexico breeze — as the teams practice for the District 4-5A meet, scheduled for Friday in Carlsbad.
“Carlsbad is tough. I mean we’ll have to run the best race of our lives to win district,” Clovis cross country coach Mark Bussen said of the boys race. “You know, I told the boys at the beginning of the year, ‘All I want is just a chance. You’re going to compete for the district.’ And that’s really all you can ask.”
Bussen, in his second stint with the team after taking a three-year hiatus, has pushed the boys’ varsity and junior varsity teams to top-five finishes in all eight events this season.
Meantime, the Lady Wildcats have placed first or second in every event this fall except for invitationals at Plainview and Friona.
Bussen said in order for the boys to win district, five Clovis runners must finish ahead of Carlsbad’s third-place runner.
The girls team need only to continue its excellent running in order to capture the title, he said.
As the team prepares for Carlsbad, two freshmen have risen to lead the boys and girls teams.
Yucca Junior High freshman Seth Zarate moved up from the junior squad two weeks ago.
“I was excited,” said Zarate, who finished 10th last week in the Ruidoso Invitational, ahead of normal CHS leader James Chavez. “When you move to varsity, it’s really big. There are different times, people push you more, and you get better times.”
A competitive fire drives Zarate to finish first, even when he plays board games.
“If someone’s ahead of me I have to catch them, and if I don’t catch them, I have to run like three miles the next day,” he said. “I remember this summer I was playing Risk with my brother, and he was about to beat me and I just flipped the board over.”
That competitive edge does not translate over to freshman Michelle Schenck, who hopes to help the girls varsity to another top finish. Rather, her love of cross country comes from her lineage.
“I have no idea how I started. I just keep going because I’m so good, I guess,” Schenck said. “But my brothers influenced me because they both ran cross country in Europe. They’re older than me, and when I saw them running when I was younger, I said I wanted to do that.”
Schenck said she is unfamiliar with the course at Carlsbad, but added it’s known to be a lot flatter than most so she’ll have to run a faster race.
“Since I don’t know the course, I’ll try my best,” Schenck said, “and since Caitlin (Waters) isn’t running I have to get up there.”
Waters, a sophomore who has been the Lady Cats’ best runner, has had a fever recently and may not participate against Carlsbad.