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APU cross country bounces back in the final race of the season after failing to meet expectations in the third race.
Courtesy of Kevin Reid

Azusa Pacific’s cross country team finished its regular-season schedule on Saturday, Oct. 19 at the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational in Sunnvale, Calif. The team ran its best race of the year, recording the fourth-best overall performance in program history and supporting junior Peter Buscheck as he ran the eighth-fastest time ever for the school (24:26.7).

This race came after a three-week break for the Cougars, who worked hard to train and stay in shape over their break.

“We raced like we’ve been training,” head coach Preston Grey said. “We did what we did in practice, and bringing that out there to the race is really all you can do. This race was pretty indicative of what we have been doing in practice.”

Top Cougar men’s runner Buscheck attributed the historic performance partly to the course where they ran.

“It was a fast course where people were running fast times, but fast times don’t just happen by accident,” Buscheck said, “We still came out there and competed really well. I think that’s due to the quality of training that we’ve been putting in the last few weeks. We’ve really stepped it up and focused a little more.”

The year began with the California Baptist Invitational Sept. 7. Buscheck finished in first and sophomore Aaron Potts finished in second, only one second after Buscheck. The women finished second overall, with three runners in the top 10. This race was an early test for the Cougars and they cranked out a strong performance.

Both the men and women of cross country have a goal for this year. The men plan to bridge the gap with the reigning PacWest cross country champions Cal Baptist while the women plan to defend their PacWest title.

During the two teams’ second races, they made strides toward achieving their goals. The men finished ahead of Cal Baptist and finished eighth overall as a team. The women finished eighth overall as well.

At the Roy Griak Invitational in Minnesota on Sept. 28, the Cougars suffered a dropoff on both the men’s and women’s side. They competed against a few top-25 Division II teams on each side and the Cougars did not meet their own expectations.

The Cougars bounced back Saturday and returned to the form they have worked to achieve throughout the year.

“We really wanted to get back to a level where we’re contending for a conference title,” Grey said. “We’ve been trying to chase down Cal Baptist for a while. They are kind of the standard-bearer, more or less, in the PacWest. I think we have closed that gap a lot and we’re ready to get a good shot at them [in the playoffs].”

Junior Kristie Sikma, top runner of the defending Pacific West Conference champion women’s team, understands the importance of staying a top team and maintains confidence in their ability to do so.

“We really put in a lot of hard work during those three weeks [without a race] to really get into the mindset that we are good enough to compete with these schools,” Sikma said. “We are a good team and have always had a legacy of being a good team. That’s the mindset we try to go into our races with. What’s hard about having a newer team is they need to learn that APU is a championship [cross country] team.”

The identity of each team not only involves its legacy, but the team chemistry it has. Runners feeding off of each other’s energy is key for staying strong in their races and both the men and women have established a strong bond with one another.

“You’re together a lot, you’re enduring a lot of mileage together, you’re suffering a lot through hard workouts, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that go into it,” Grey said. “You feel a close bond with your teammates, especially when you know that they’re willing to go that extra mile for you, and when you develop that bond with them, that allows yourself to push yourself harder, and when it starts hurting, you just keep pushing through it because you know you’re doing it for your teammates.”

Buscheck said teamwork in cross country is a key to success.

“Cross country [is about chemistry] much more so than track and field,” Buscheck said. “I’d say there’s that team dynamic. The guys on the team, we all get along together really well, and we all have fun out there. When you’re having fun, it’s a lot easier to perform well. Cross country is definitely a team sport. It takes five guys to do it.”

Sikma is thankful for her training partners, senior Sarah Higgens and sophomore Reika Kijima, for always pushing her to the limit and helping her to get better.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have some pretty amazing training partners that will push me to be better,” Sikma said. “We run as a team, we try to be as close to each other as possible, we’re helping each other work out, and that translates over to races.”

The PacWest Conference Championships begin Saturday, Nov. 2 in San Rafael, Calif. With slightly more than a week left until the playoffs, the team is anticipating a chance to fulfill the goals members formed in the beginning of the season.

“I think we’re feeling pretty good,” Grey said. “They’re feeling like they got a bit of redemption from their last race and are licking their chops for the championship season.”