Before the UH-Hilo cross country team could get off to a running start, the season is one-third finished.
That’s life in the pandemic era, where the Vulcans have just three meets, compared to six a year ago.
Only the Hawaii schools are competing — UHH, Chaminade, and Hawaii Pacific. There will be no PacWest championship because the mainland schools have no season.
HPU’s meet was held last week, so there are just two more scheduled, starting with the UH-Hilo Invitational at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Naniloa Golf Course.
So UHH coach Jaime Guerpo is not complaining.
“The way I look at it is an opportunity for us to train and race,” he said. “It’s a blessing in disguise so we are grateful. We haven’t raced since the Great Aloha Run a year ago, and we haven’t raced in cross-country since November of 2019. So the gals are hungry.”
The Vulcans have been training since last October, took a three-week Christmas break, and returned in early January to resume training. And there have been no issues with the coronavirus. There are only three teams so the runners are spread out.
UHH lost a pair of top runners in freshmen Teijah Rosas, a Hilo graduate, and Solace Bergeron, from Oregon.
“I lost two good gals for two different reasons,” Guerpo said. “Rosas was the 2019 BIIF cross country champ, and Bergeron was a two-time state champion in Division 4A. As far as firepower up front, I do have good depth.”
The team returns its top runners in Olivia Jarvis, Emma Heidelmeier, and Makena Morris, and they finished 2-3-4 at the HPU meet, while freshman Leilani Stone, a Keaau graduate, was fifth.
“Olivia has been my front runner for three years now,” Guerpo said. “She’s a proven competitor, no give in her. Emma and Makena have improved in their running abilities. They have been more consistent in training.
“Leilani shows up in practice and in racing. She is fierce and does not let up. She doesn’t run like a freshman.”
The depth also includes junior Caitlin Kawaiaea, sophomore Sabina Boo-Rivera, from Keaau High, and freshman Aurea Streadbeck.
“Caitlin is like Olivia. She can turn it out when she needs to,” Guerpo said. “Sabrina is in the right frame of mind and has just as much talent as all of these girls. Aurea is set back a little from hip surgery, but she works just as hard if not harder than all the girls.”
There’s a reason Jarvis has been the top runner. She works at it. Hard work does pay off for her.
“Her offseason training is the most consistent, and that’s why she is always up there in the race,” Guerpo said. “Her and my expectations are high, but I leave that to her. She is self-motivated to do well day in and day out.
“Emma and Stone are very reliable in the fact that they’ll be in the thick of things during a race. They listen to instructions well, as do the others.”
One recruiting attraction for Guerpo is Hilo as a training ground. Want to see nature at its best? That’s what the Vulcans experience when they go on training runs.
“I like it that we have all of Hilo as our facility,” he said. “We can run down Keaukaha, do hill repeats at Kukuau and Puainako extensions or on the grass at Bayfront.”
Guerpo, in his 22nd year at UHH, knows cross country flies under the radar compared to other sports, but it’s no less demanding.
“If you look at our island in general, we are mostly a three-sport, basketball, football, and baseball,” he said. “Track is pretty significant. Cross country is like comparing it to someone like it’s misunderstood. If you appreciate how it works it’s awesome to watch.”
“To me cross-country is one of if not the toughest sports around, at least cardiovascularly and mentally. In high school (Honokaa), I played basketball, football, track, and boxing. Basketball and football are both tough but more skill-wise. Boxing is probably the toughest of all where you need to be cardio fit, mentally fit, and skill-wise fit.”
Guerpo was a state boxing champ and participated in the Junior Olympics. He competed in cross country at HPU, so he knows all about fitness and conditioning for all sports.
The real significance of UHH’s cross country program is not only the balance of Title IX, but it gives women the opportunity to participate in a life-long activity. Best of all it teaches the most important lesson in sports: Do your best.
“My thing with the team is to try your best and focus on the task at hand, be in the here and now,” he said. “That’s all you can do. You’ve only got four years to compete, and you don’t want any regrets like, ‘Oh I should’ve, could’ve, would’ve done better.’ Make the best of what we got, and we got two more races to do it.”