A Program on the Rise
Andrew Zivic details the evolution of the LMU cross country program.
Oct. 8, 2008
By Andrew Zivic, LMU Sports Information Intern
When head coach Scott Guerrero first arrived at LMU to coach the cross country teams, he was shorthanded by a limited amount of resources. As his resources have increased, Guerrero has shown that he has the coaching and recruiting ability to improve the program and take it to new heights.
Though Guerrero is in his 11th season at LMU, his coaching position didn't become a full-time position until 2003. Now he has three assistants working under him, including Drew Roberts, his first full-time assistant.
It has become apparent that as Guerrero and his assistants have been able to put more time into coaching, both the men's and women's teams have reached new heights. The women have been top-three at the West Coast Conference Championships, and have finished in the top-15 at the NCAA West Region Championships, for the past three straight years. On the other side, the men's team finished second at the WCC Championship last year, their highest finish since 1981. That is especially impressive when considering that the University of Portland finished first for the 29th straight year.
Another helpful resource for Guerrero is that Track & Field became a school-sponsored varsity sport in 2006. That helps him to attract top runners who want to take part in both cross country and track.
"Before track became a varsity sport, we improved to the point where we ran up against a glass ceiling," Guerrero said. "What was happening was we were losing good cross country recruits because they wanted to compete in track as well."
The last key to improving the program, especially on the women's side, was Laura Mickelson. Mickelson graduated last year and helped put LMU on the map by making it individually to both the NCAA cross country and track championships. She made the cross country championships each of the last two seasons. In 2006 she finished in the top-25 in the 5k at the NCAA National Championships in the spring and then won the WCC cross country championship in the fall.
Guerrero said, "Laura helped elevate our profile quite a bit, no question."
He felt that included getting sophomore Tara Erdmann, now the team's top runner, to first consider LMU and eventually come here. Erdmann chose to run for the Lions over the University of Colorado and Arizona State University. She saw how much Mickelson improved under Guerrero's tutelage and knew that she could do the same if she came to LMU.
"Coach is able to develop runners and that's what I saw through Laura," Erdmann said. "Cross country is a team sport and I want to make an impact on the team, but running is also individual, so even if the team didn't qualify, I still have the chance to qualify myself."
Despite being highly touted when coming to LMU, Erdmann did not disappoint in her freshman year. She was named Freshman of the Year in the West Coast Conference and finished 40th overall at the NCAA West Regional.
Erdmann was part of Guerrero's best recruiting class when she and the other freshmen on both teams came in last year. The program continues to grow and improve, though, and Guerrero says that this year's freshman class is his best yet, even better than last year's. With a great recruiting class added to a successful team, the men's team was ranked in the top-15 for the first time ever in the West Region preseason rankings. One of those freshmen on the men's side is Phillip Benavides.
He said, "I felt like it's a program I could come to and make an impact."
Benavides and the rest of the freshmen have done just that. At the team's first invitational at UC Irvine, two of the top-five runners for the men were freshmen, and three of the top-five were freshmen for the women.
As they have become accustomed to running longer distances (8k for the men and 6k for the women, up from 5k in high school) the freshmen have made even more of an impact. Benavides led the way for the men's team as freshmen comprised four of the top-seven on the team.
On the women's side, Erdmann led LMU as they had five freshmen in its top-seven. The leading freshman all season for the women's team has been Brieanna Delaney. She credits Guerrero with helping her to the point where she's running much faster than she did in high school.
"I came in here just hoping to improve on my high school times and to reach some goals by my sophomore and junior years," Delaney said. "The workouts have been so different than what I was used to in high school and my body seems to really like the training. I've got this new engine that I never had before, and I have to test it out and push my body to its new limits."
While the freshmen will be key to the Lions' success this season, senior leadership will also be important. The seniors are a link from when the program really started growing and becoming as successful as it is today. When Abby Fall first came to LMU four years ago, she didn't come for running. In fact, she didn't even decide to go out for the cross country team until a week before school began. After getting adapted to college running as a freshman, she has consistently been a top-three runner for the Lions the past few seasons.
On the men's side, Trevor Wiseman and Lino Almeida both finished in the top-five for LMU at the Stanford Invitational. Almeida came from Arcadia High School in Arcadia, Calif., which was similar to LMU in that the running program was built into one of the best in the state while he was there.
"Being here through the years, you've seen the ups and you've seen the downs," Almeida said. "But knowing that you were there when it started, all the way to where it is now, is cool to see how it has all evolved."
The combination of both senior leadership and outstanding underclassmen has the Lions on both sides believing they can have one of their best championship seasons in program history. Both teams are happy with the way they've progressed so far this year. The men even believe that they can make a run at snapping Portland's consecutive championships streak in the WCC.
Benavides said, "We want to win conference. Some people may view that as unrealistic, but we're going to win. With the type of talent we have, we can do it."
The young talent on both sides has certainly infused LMU with more confidence and has them setting loftier goals than ever before.
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