THOUSAND OAKS, Calif.— After rebuilding with a young group of runners last year, the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen cross country team returns experience and depth for the 2019 campaign.
"This year will be solid all around with our upperclassmen," said Cal Lutheran head cross country coach Matt Lea. "Then our freshmen will be able to come in and learn and don't have to step up and do too much right away."
After having no seniors a year ago, the quartet of Rigoberto Baza, Rudy Correa, Henry Friederichs and Connor Richter lead the team into the upcoming season. At the NCAA Division III West Region Championships last year, Baza finished 66th in the region as Friedrichs and Correa were 85th and 107th, respectively.
"Our seniors that we have are going to be huge leaders," said Lea. "It will be awesome to see how they blossom throughout the year together."
The junior class is led by Nikita Khromets, Connor Neufeld-Griffin and Aaron Rider. Khromets led the Kingsmen at SCIAC Championships and West Region Championships. He was a top-three CLU finisher at the SCIAC Championships in 2018, for the second straight year, and placed 39thoverall. He then led the team at the West Region Championships and came in 52nd with a new personal best of 26:29.4. Correa also ran at the SCIAC Championships and placed 99th.
"Experience factors a lot because these seniors and upperclassmen have seen the SCIAC and Regional courses two and three times over their careers," said Lea. "The courses don't change so our athletes know where all the turns are out, where to kick and speed up at and they can change how they've run the course in the past to help improve their times."
More returners that got their first taste of these courses last year is the sophomore class of Dillan Barmache, Xavier Reynoso and Luke VanKeersbilck. All three gained valuable experience racing at the SCIAC Championships and Reynoso and VanKeersbilck also competed at the West Region Championships.
"It is nice is that we have two incoming athletes that are pretty good and we are excited about them. These two freshmen will be able to grow with our team."
The goal of the team this year is to work hard, always taking care of their bodies and supporting each other individually and as a team.
"The top thing is staying healthy, that is a big key in cross country as we log so many miles," said Lea. "I am excited to see what the team can do from start to finish. Our guys want to do everything possible to succeed and help the team out as well. So them doing what they need to do individually is what is going to help us have a strong season."
The season gets underway at the end of the month as the Kingsmen compete in their first race on Aug. 31, at the Mark Covert Classic in Brea, Calif.
2019 Roster: Kingsmen Cross Country
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Release by Ryan Jorgenson, Sports Information Director