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VanDeberg returns as Gila Ridge's top runner
At the start of a Wednesday practice, the Gila Ridge cross country team headed west on 24th Street.
Junior Jonathan VanDeberg was in the front of the pack, his eyes squinting because of the setting sun. For VanDeberg, who is the Hawks' top returner from last year's state meet team, being the one in the front is something he'll get used to for Gila Ridge this season.
“Compared to last year, I was chasing, now I'm leading. I like running ahead most of the time. It makes me feel better and usually I have that kick at the end.”
In last year's Division II state meet, VanDeberg finished with a time of 18:24.45 — the second best time posted by a runner from Gila Ridge, which finished in 24th place. Despite having more hills than he's used to, he finished just a few seconds' shy of a personal record. But VanDeberg admits that as a sophomore, it was rare for him to actually run a smart race.
“Most of them were just god-awful. One or two were good. The one at state was probably my best one.”
But according to new cross country coach Laurel Jordan, VanDeberg is maturing and the concepts of running intelligently are starting to click.
“He's starting to get it. When we have to do certain pace runs, he knows when to push himself and when to pace himself,” she said.
While the Hawks lose four of the seven runners who ran in the state meet, VanDeberg is not alone in Gila Ridge's quest to get back to the final race. Senior Michael Morrisey and junior Justin Ramirez also return.
“It was amazing to have it be my first year doing cross country and I make it to state,” Ramirez said.
Junior Nathan Mendivil, who also wrestles for the Hawks squad that finished second in the state, as well as senior Ryan Hinrichs, whose performance in the preseason should land him on varsity, will also provide a boost for the Hawks.
“I've been putting in more work than I ever have. You have to have the physical parts to keep up with some of the top runners, but you need the mental strength to trust yourself,” Hinrichs said.
But still, leading the pack will most likely be VanDeberg, and Jordan said she feels he's ready to step into that role.
“He's a really good leader. He's a very good leader. I do see Jonathan as one of the top runners of the whole district.”
VanDeberg, while quick to deflect the notion that he runs things for the Hawks, realizes his role for the team will be increased.
“I don't feel like it's my team. I feel it's more of a responsibility to help out with the team. I feel like I need to be coaching.”
Jordan said her runners understand that the chances of defeating star runner and reigning state champion Bernie Montoya of Cibola are slim, so they must run within themselves — or suffer the consequences or running out of energy late in the race.
“They understand that they need to run their pace. They know they aren't going to beat Bernie and it's ridiculous for them to try to keep up with him because that'll only hurt themselves.”
But one thing Jordan doesn't have to worry about with her Hawks will be a lack of motivation. One afternoon, with the sun beating down, Jordan called for a run, expecting maybe two or three runners.
“Twenty showed up. These kids want to run.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at email@example.com or at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.