The Long Beach State cross-country team wasted no time hitting its stride in the 2017 season as the women won both team and individual honors at the Pepperdine Invitational on Friday. Junior Mikayla Florez crossed the finish line first out of 44 other runners, securing her first collegiate win at Alumni Park.
“I didn’t really have too many expectations since this is a completely new team, so I was just trying to go out there and see where we stood,” Florez said. “I really wanted all of us to be in the front which we pretty much were, and it was great to start out.”
Florez set the winning pace in the 4K with a personal best 14:41.96, while freshman Mauren Fitzsimmons placed sixth (15:09.92) and junior Alexis Ceballos finished eighth (15:19.39) in both of their LBSU debuts. Three runners in the top-10 was more than enough to outscore all five of their opponents including CSUN, CSU Bakersfield, Pepperdine, UC Irvine and USC.
“It’s always fun to win and it’s a great way to start the season,” second-year head coach Shawn Winget. “Now that we’ve tasted steak we don’t want to go back to eating burgers.”
The men’s team didn’t fare as well as the women, but senior George Martinez finished in eighth with a personal best 5K time of 16:01.83. Freshman Joey Del Valle Rutherford (16:28.40) and Ezra Sotelo (16:36.39) rounded out the 49ers’ top three runners at 14th and 17th place, respectively.
“I always try not to start the season off without big expectations on the first meet, because the [athletes] are tired and only six returners from the roster last year,” Winget said.
Florez and Martinez anchored the core of veterans in the Pepperdine Invitational and will look to continue that throughout the season. Next on the schedule for LBSU is the UC Riverside Invitational in Riverside on Sept. 16.
“Now we know where we are and it’s a big confidence booster for us,” Florez said. “We know that we should be in the front and do really well in conference.”
As for how Winget feels about the big win in the 49ers first meet of the season; “We’re going to really surprise some people this year.”