NMJC sweeps Region V championship meet
Pea soup was on the menu Saturday morning as New Mexico Junior College hosted the Region V cross country championships at Harry McAdams Park in Hobbs.
Fog was everywhere, as were cold drizzle and overcast skies. But the Thunderbird men and women overcame it all and each won a Region V championship, marking the first time that both the NMJC men and women captured that title in the same year.
Additionally, NMJC had individual champions in sophomores Tomas Vega and Damaris Chewon, who won the men’s and women’s races, respectively.
All in all, a good day for Thunderbird cross country, despite the bleak weather conditions.
“Oh, I’m extremely proud of how they did,” NMJC head coach Jeff Becker said. “This is the first time in school history that we’ve been able to win both the men’s and women’s regional championships at the same time. So I’m extremely proud of that.”
The NMJC men had a total time of 2:02:00.90, with an average time of 24:24.18.
“I’m really satisfied and happy with the score overall,” Tomas Vega said, “but I feel that we can do better at nationals. And I know we are going to do better.”
The NMJC women posted a total time of 1:34.54.80, with an average time of 18:58.96.
“I’m very proud of my teammates,” Chewon said. “We’ve been training together. We’ve had this goal of (winning) regionals. So I’m very proud of them, I’m very happy for them.”
It was a day of firsts for NMJC. Aside from the Thunderbirds’ Region V title sweep, Chewon and Vega had historic meets. Chewon knocked it out of McAdams Park, figuratively speaking, by coming in under 18 minutes (17:59.40) for the first time in her NMJC career.
“For her to do that is amazing,” Becker said.
“I feel good about it,” Chewon said. “From the start of my semester I trusted my training, I trusted the process, the coaches as well. This is something I’ve been longing for.”
And Vega’s 23:04.80 established new school and course records.
“I’m extremely proud of both of them,” Becker said. “They both ran their best times of the year.”
“It felt good,” Vega said, “and it’s really good for the team. I’m satisfied with my place – and happy.”
The men’s race, as most of NMJC’s races have gone this year, featured a twin bill, literally, as in twin brothers finishing 1-2 in the results. Tomas’ twin brother and teammate German took second place with a time of 23:07.20. At the NMJC Invitational I on Sept. 22, it was Tomas in first place, German in second. At Invitational II on Oct. 6, the script flipped and German captured first, with Tomas placing second. And at Invitational III a week later, Tomas was back in first place, German in second.
The Region V women’s race played out the way all three NMJC Invitationals did – with Chewon, freshman Jayne Elvin, and sophomore Vanessa Gallegos in some order in the top three spots. Invitational I had Elvin in first place, Chewon in second and Gallegos in third. Invitationals II and III finished with Chewon first, Elvin second and Gallegos third, and Saturday’s Region V championships saw the same 1-2-3 finish as those last two Invitationals.
Elvin’s second-place time on Saturday was 18:58.00, followed by Gallegos – a 2022 Lovington High graduate – with her third-place time of 19:07.00.
NMJC had two other women’s finishers place in the top 10: Carolyne Kimaiyo (sixth, 19:22.20) and Lisanne Schapendonk (eighth, 19:28.20).
Also finishing for the NMJC women were Jody Ann Mitchell (13th, 20:15.40) and Morgan Waltmire (18th, 20:55.20).
On the men’s side, NMJC’s Wilson Navarrete joined the Vega brothers in the top five, placing fifth with a time of 24:51.90. And Alex Keter joined his Thunderbird teammates in the top 10, placing 10th with his time of 25:20.00, just two seconds ahead of 11th-place finisher Amos Yego of El Paso Community College (25:22.60).
Other NMJC men’s finishers were: Paul Maurer (14th, 25:37.00); Marc Pauvert (19th, 26:11.50); and Cyprien Bille (40th, 27:45.60).
The men’s team standings were: 1) New Mexico Junior College, 2) Hill College, 3) El Paso Community College, 4) Ranger, 5) South Plains, 6) Amarillo College, 7) Western Texas College, and 8) North Central Texas College.
The women’s team standings were: 1) New Mexico Junior College, 2) El Paso Community College, 3) North Central Texas College, 4) Amarillo College, 5) Hill College, 6) New Mexico Military Institute, and 7) Western Texas College.
For NMJC, earning the sweep was about the athleticism assembled on the roster, and the athletes’ diligence.
“I think it’s a combination of both,” Becker said. “We’ve got some great athletes, and they’ve worked really hard. They’ve come together as a team, they’ve pushed each other. I think that’s what has made us what we are right now.”
Next up for the Thunderbirds is the national championship meet on Nov. 11 at Huntsville, Alabama’s John Hunt Park.
“I think we’ve got a great shot to do well,” Becker said. “They understand that this was just a stepping stone on the way to our goal of performing well at nationals.”