By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Clovis High cross country coach Mark Bussen had high hopes his girls squad could win a Class 5A state championship, or at least finish in the top three and win a trophy.
But with top runner Caitlin Waters still recovering from a bout with walking pneumonia, Bussen said the Lady Wildcats will just have to do the best they can without her in today’s competition at Rio Rancho. Clovis competes in the boys 5A race at 11 a.m., while the girls are scheduled to run at 1 p.m.
Waters did not run in last Saturday’s District 4-5A meet at Carlsbad, and Bussen was hopeful rest would allow her to be ready for today. The decision was made Wednesday to hold her out again.
“When you take her out of the picture, my realistic goal is to finish in the top half (among 12 full teams),” Bussen said.
Waters, a sophomore, would have had a chance to finish near the top individually. Bussen is still hopeful freshman Michelle Schenck and junior Nicole Johnson will give the Lady Cats a big boost.
“Nicole and Michelle could still be around the top 10, so it gives us a chance to score well,” Bussen said.
Johnson isn’t looking at it as though the team is missing one of its top performers.
“I want to make coach proud,” she said. “Without Caitlin, it might lessen our chances, but all of us have improved a whole bunch this year.”
Johnson, who only took up the sport last year, has given the Lady Cats a solid, consistent third runner. She said she didn’t even know what distance running was until she was put in distance events in track as a freshman at Marshall Junior High.
Since then, it’s become her favorite sport. Her goal is to eventually have one of the school’s all-time top times.
“I enjoy running,” said Johnson, whose best time this fall was 19:19 in the Southeast New Mexico Invitational in Roswell on Oct. 7. “This is my sport. I’m good at it and I want to stay with it.”
The Lady Cats were eighth in last year’s state meet at Gallup. Bussen said Eldorado appears to be a solid favorite this year on the girls side.
As for the boys, Bussen said the key for the Wildcats is to be able to run together.
“(The top five CHS runners) were within 30 seconds at Carlsbad,” Bussen said. “Our goal realistically is to try to beat Carlsbad. If we can do that, we could finish in the top four to six at state.”
Senior James Chavez has been the Cats’ top runner most of the fall, but he has been getting pushed of late by Marshall freshman Seth Zarate.
“James has really come through as a leader this year,” Bussen said. “He’s done a great job of pulling those other guys along.”
Rio Rancho and La Cueva are the teams to beat for the boys, Bussen said.
Other runners for the Lady Cats this weekend with Schenck and Johnson will be senior Vanessa Croke, junior Marisa Burton and sophomores Kayla Merritt, Callie Bunce and Becca Clark. Joining Chavez and Zarate for the boys will be senior Luis Gonzalez, junior Hunter Waters, sophomores Justin Netcher and Justin Kyle and freshman Ben Reed.