Three West Valley-based cross-country clubs will be represented at the USATF National Junior Olympic Cross-Country Championship in Reno, Nevada, on Saturday, December 8.
The clubs, Distance University, NX Level and Glendale Flash, have 42 runners who qualified for nationals.
To qualify, runners had to finish in the Top 30 of their respective age groups at the November 27 USATF Region 10 Junior Olympic Championships in Phoenix.
Each of the 16 country’s regions can send up to 30 kids to nationals per age group. There is expected to be roughly 3,000 kids from across the country competing in the championship.
Individual races are typically comprised of 200 to 250 runners.
Distance University head coach Ron Steinhilber will send four runners younger than 10 to Reno. He prepares his young athletes by keeping it simple in the days leading up to the event.
“When they get (to Reno), the situation is going to be different as is, so we try to keep it as normal as possible. It’s all the same race once you get going,” Steinhilber said. “Stay relaxed, stay within yourself, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, be who you are and trust your training.”
One of those young runners is 9-year-old Olivia Neve of Buckeye, who is set to race against 269 other 9- and 10-year-olds in the 3K.
“I just need to be confident in myself and don’t think of the things that can go wrong, instead think of the things that can go right,” she said.
NX Level head coach Jim Rafferty relies on a “visualization” technique to bring success to his runners.
“We talk about getting to the first mile mark at specific target time and we have them visualize the race and imagine hearing their target time at the mile mark,” Rafferty said. “We tell them that if they hear that, they should get excited, because they are right on pace. Then we give them a scenario that has them come to the mile slower than their target, and we prep them to get excited, because now they know they have energy left to finish even faster than we planned.
“So, in all scenarios, we prepare them to get excited midrace.”
It’s inevitable these young athletes will be nervous, Steinhilber and Rafferty agreed.
Emotions will certainly come in to play, but for this event, success is taking a backseat to enjoying the experience.
“As long as they just stay within themselves and have fun,” Steinhilber said. “That’s the whole point of the whole thing – just have fun.”
Rafferty added, “One of the things we focus on with the young athletes is to downplay the magnitude of this race. We focus on them having fun, enjoying the time with their families and teammates and just enjoying the experience. If they make All-American, that’s fantastic, but no matter what the result or where they finish, we don’t want any athletes feeling disappointed or discouraged after the race. My primary goal with these athletes is to nurture a love for running and to teach them how to compete.”
Nationals qualifiers from Distance University Track and Cross-Country Club: Serena Dupps, Robert Leonardis, Beckem Hall, Olivia Neve, Josiah Levin and Derek Young
From NX Level Track: Taelyn Janssen, Jacob Martin, Landon BeBlond, Rylee Rafferty, Taryn Jannsen, Sara Ortiz, Chloe Callison, Mia Kemp, Trevin Janssen, Kyli Alvarez, Alexander Rafferty, John Weston, Michaeul Rubio, Oscar Gonzales, Trey Jannsen, Thomas Soriano, Luc Guillemette, Tyler Rafferty and Trent Janssen
From Glendale Flash: Emmanuel Nunez, Alexander Murphy, Kaitlynn Millard, Grace Berthaud, Stephany Iza, Jesus Aldana, Jonathan Desanti, Benjamin Adames, Bryan Godines, Carlos Lopez, Paul Cota, Manuel Navarro, Luis Cisneros, Anthony Vela, Jose Rios, Francisco Reyes and Aaron Angulo.