New year, new faces. The Smyrna High cross country team has a new face on the team this year, but it’s not a player…it’s a coach. Smyrna High teacher Jennifer Suarez is taking over the reins of the team from previous coach Maura Schafer and expects the team to do pretty well this year.
Suarez was previously an assistant coach at Lake Forest and coached in New Jersey. John Haller is the assistant coach.
While she she’s shocked to be the coach – she originally applied to be the assistant coach – Suarez is excited for the season to begin. Having helped out with the track teams last year, Suarez already has a handle on quite a few of her runners.
“I’m excited to see what they’re capable of doing and happy to be working with them,” she said.
Suarez is ready to instill a love of running in the Smyrna culture. She even plans on working with the middle school in order to cultivate runners for the high school program: “In Smyrna there’s a huge student body. There’s no reason not to get some good runners. I want to build the culture and build the program at the high school.”
Heading into the new season, the key returners are Victoria Vickers and Ludric Francis. Suarez said Francis had a breakthrough on the track team last year and she hopes it’ll carry over to cross country.
The top runner on the boys team, Suarez said, will be first-time cross country runner Gabe Mojica – he played track and lacrosse last year. Choosing to focus on cross country this fall, Suarez said Mojica is looking very good after his summer training program.
Expected to help Vickers out on the girls side are Erin Cooper and Alanis Hernandez. “They ran cross country last year but didn’t come on until the end of the season,” Suarez said. “They’ll come up and help with Tori [Vickers] and make a nice little pact.”
For a season outlook, Suarez expects the girls to compete with other top conference teams Milford, CR, and Sussex Tech. She wants the girls team to improve upon last year’s 8-2 record.
“I definitely think the girls can be one of the top teams in the conference, if not win the conference.”
Vickers agrees with her coach that the team can do well this year.
“I think we’ll do a lot better than last year because we have more people and we work together really good,” Vickers said.
She said the runners need to work on boosting their times up and working together. Her personal goal is to get her time in the 19-minute time frame.
As for the boys, Suarez also wants them to improve upon last year’s record of 6-6. She plans on making every runner race to their full potential: “I’m going to train them how I was trained. With their training this summer and hard work, hopefully we’ll see some immediate success.”
Francis expects the boys team to do well this year thanks in part to the teams strong backbone and strong returners: “Mentally we’re ready. We have great returners and we will be a successful team.”
Key aspects to the boys team, Francis, said is the fact that the runners show great sportsmanship in helping each other at practice and they push themselves to do better. The team does need to improve on their intensity though.
“We need to bring intensity and show what we’re willing to sacrifice in order to be a great runner,” he said.
Francis thinks the team will be able to compete in the conference. On a personal level, he wants to be a contender in conference as well as the state.
Along with rebuilding Smyrna’s cross country success and culture, Suarez simply wants to have fun.
“My goal has always been to just go out and have fun because I love this support so much,” Suarez said. “If you’re not having fun, you’ll not want to do it.”
Email Jennifer Dailey at email@example.com.