A number of athletes have led the way for the men’s cross country team this season. This weekend at Cal State San Bernardino at the California Collegiate Athletic Association Championships, it was freshman Tristan Sylva who took the mantle.

Sylva placed 16th overall with a time of 25 minutes, 3.9 seconds, the Broncos top finisher as the team placed third out 10 teams. He missed out on an all-conference honor by less than 5 seconds as the top 15 athletes earn that honor.

“He’s just been really consistent,” associate head coach Wes Ashford said. “He’s gradually improving every week and it shows that the hard work that he’s been putting in is starting to pay off and starting to produce a little bit in races.”

Tristan Sylva led the Broncos in the CCAA Championship race at Cal State San Bernardino with a 16th place finish. (David Wilson | The Poly Post)

The men’s team has placed in at least the top five in all of its races this season, winning three of those races. Junior Alejandro Ambrosio, junior Eamon Smythe and sophomore Jeremiah Suzara have all at one point been the team’s top finisher in a race this season.

“It is kind of an interesting year, we don’t have a definitive No. 1 and it seems to be a different person every week,” Ashford said. “Which is kind of a nice problem to have but makes it kind of nerve-racking on our part.”

Sylva finished in front, but it was Ambrosio who started not just leading the Broncos but the race. After the first five minutes of the race, Ambrosio led the overall field with Sylva in 17th and the fifth place Bronco. However, as his teammates faded, Sylva held his position and moved up one spot into 16th.

“We just wanted to stay with the front pack,” Sylva said. “We knew Chico was going to take it out fast so our ultimate plan was just to try to stay with them and just hold on.”

The pace of the race was faster than what Sylva and the Broncos typically run at, with the first couple of miles being run at a combined sub-10-minute pace.

“Usually we don’t really do that, we’re not used to that,” Sylva said. “I just kept holding on.”

For the women’s team, junior Anahi Betart has consistently been the top performer. On Saturday, Betart was “battling a little bit of illness” according to Ashford and was unable to complete the race.

Junior Elizabeth Hernandez led the way in her place, finishing 18th overall with a time of 22:26.3. Hernandez anticipated her competitors to start out fast because of it being the conference meet, and waited for a group of runners to make a push about halfway through the race.

“It worked,” said Hernandez, who is a staff writer for The Poly Post. “My plan unfolded right in front of me.”

For part of the race, Hernandez was running alongside Chico State junior Nora Pizzella but fell behind during the dirt track portion of the course.

“I was still passing girls, but a whole swamp of girls came and kind of ate me up,” Hernandez said. “It was tough, but I felt like it was a really good race, I was mentally in it the whole time.”

Elizabeth Hernandez finished 18th overall in CSUSB. (David Wilson | The Poly Post)

With the loss of Betart, the women finished seventh place out of 12 teams.

In two weeks, the team will compete in Billings, Montana in the NCAA West Region Championships, where berths for the national championship can be secured.

The top three teams in each region go automatically to nationals with everyone else requiring at-large bids.

According to Ashford, it will “be a dog fight” for his team to qualify and that a “miracle is going to have to happen” for the team to qualify for nationals without placing top three in the region.

“Overall, there’s a lot of pluses to look at but you know we still got a lot of work ahead of us,” Ashford said. “We’re young, a young team, and learning every week. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcuts to the process.”

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