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The cross country team tackles Pine Top Trail

Superstitions surrounding Friday the 13th didn’t appear to faze the Mills cross country team last week when they placed second in the only home meet of the year.

In fact, the members of the team say they didn’t take much notice of the unusual date and its pop culture significance of bad luck. “If anything, [our performance was] proof it was working to our advantage,” said Head Coach Laura Davis.

This was the 19th annual Mills Invitational, a cross country meet open to colleges in Divisions I, II, and III as well as select others. The course covered most of the Mills campus, running through both its center and around its edges. The men’s 8 kilometer course covered approximately 4.9 miles while the women’s 5 kilometer race approximately 3.1 miles. The white line running through campus, made of flour for easy removal by the next bit of rain, led the women runners looping around campus.

Ana Tijiboy, a junior on the Mills cross country team, was enthusiastic about the meet and said, “We had a great time showing off our campus.”

Mills’ second place finish came behind William Jessup University. Mills’ performance at this meet has fluctuated throughout its history, taking an upswing in the mid-90s that was most noticeable when Mills won the event in both 1998 and 1999. The team has consistently secured a top three spot since 2002 behind schools such as William Jessup, Pacific Union College, and Simpson University.

This meet was the first of the season in which all of the conference teams were represented, though only William Jessup, Mills, and Pacific Union had complete teams.

Oct. 27 is the Cal Pac Conference Championship, which Davis believes Mills has a chance of winning. The Cyclones were only four points shy of the lead in this year’s Mills Invitational, a small difference in cross country when a good or bad day for a single runner can change the team outcome.

This year’s team is a young team as well – only two of the ten runners are upperclassmen. Of the remaining eight, two are sophomores and six are freshwomen. “It’s exciting,” said Davis, “because it’s a young team who will continue to improve and get even better each year.”

Davis said she considers the Mills Invitational the hardest race of the season because of the course’s difficulty. The hill at the start of Pine Top Trail is one of the steepest that runners face all year.

The route began on the grassy area beyond Richards Lot at the front of campus and led up the chapel side of Richards Road into the campus center. The course then led up the hill to Pine Top Trail to finish their first mile. Davis calls this moment the decision of whether runners will give it their all and run up the hill or give in to the natural impulse to walk. The second mile followed Pine Top Trail past Lake Aliso around to the front of campus and back through the start/finish area for the final mile. This stretch of course used to detour down Kapiolani Road to Richards Road and is an innovation of Davis’.

The third mile continued on Pine Top Trail behind Faculty Village in one of the far reaches of campus before returning to the tree-lined Richards Road. Runners turned back into the parking lot and returned to the grassy area beyond for the third time to finish a race that took Mills’ top-placed runner, Lupe Cazares, 22 minutes and 44 seconds.

Family, friends and event volunteers populated the entire course to provide support. “I have never felt so supported and appreciated on campus before,” said freshwoman Perla Cantu. There were also fun signs along the way, courtesy of the Mills crew team, according to Tijiboy. Volunteers, in addition to cheering, stood by the course to watch for problems and also to direct runners at intersections that might be confusing or danger from crossing traffic.

The Mills team has been training vigorously in preparation, running the hill to Pine Top Trail at least once a week and periodically reviewing the entire course. The mental preparation is as important as the physical, said Davis, and the increased comfort level with the course and hills in general (of which Pine Top Trail is a formidable opponent) adds to the strength of a runner. It shows, too, as Tijiboy said, “It definitely felt like the quickest race out of all the ones we’ve run so far.”

“I’m proud of them no matter how they run,” Davis said.