The Carson High girls cross country team poses for the annual team photo. Pictured from left to right are Lilly Barker, Myakoda John, Eleanor Romeo, Vea Miner, Brianna Rodriguez Nunez, Madison Hager, Hannah Budd, Jinnie Ponczoch, Lizzy Barker, Anna Shane and Ella Dooley.
Photo by Jeff Mulvihill, Jr. | InstaImage.
This version of the Carson High girls cross country team may frighten other teams in Nevada.
Last fall, four of the six runners on the varsity squad were freshman – and they won the state title.
While they know they’ve set an incredibly high standard for their future, the youngest members of their team hadn’t adapted to a full offseason training routine.
All the miles run in the offseason allowed Carson to not only compete against the best teams in Nevada, but go out and dominate against national competition.
They will look to defend their title starting Oct. 27 at Rancho San Rafael in the regional meet. They will return to Rancho San Rafael Nov. 4 for the Class 5A state meet.
“We were running together more, bringing our siblings in to run with us,” said captain Eleanor Romeo. “Any trail we could get to.”
“Over the summer we all ran a lot, like 200 something miles,” said Jinnie Ponczoch. “Between my freshman and sophomore year I ran a lot over the summer and my 5K time improved by minutes.”
Madison Hager echoed those sentiments.
“Going into high school and seeing how important it was (to train over summer),” said Hager. “To see how much time you can take off of your best times running over the summer, I ran more so I could be up there when I got back.”
As a sophomore, Brianna Rodriguez Nunez has watched her times drop in meet after meet from 2022 thanks to her offseason workouts.
“I didn’t run that much last offseason. I’ve seen how much it helps,” said Rodriguez Nunez. “I just want to always try to improve no matter what.”
(Carson High’s Briana Rodriguez Nunez stops her watch as she comes across the finish line during the 2022 Northern Nevada regional cross country meet. / Carter Eckl)
So far this season, the Senators have traveled to the 42nd annual Woodbridge Cross Country Classic, which featured hundreds of teams from across the United States.
Sophomore Hannah Budd earned a top 100 ranking nationwide based on her finish at Woodbridge. She was ninth in the 3-mile “rated girls” race, competing against 220 other runners.
“It was a fun race and it was really fun to race at night,” said Budd. “I didn’t think about the national ranking.”
“I’ve never been to a meet that big before,” said Hager on Woodbridge.
“Woodbridge was super fun. It was a great experience. I think it’s nice that we got another opportunity,” Rodriguez Nunez said.
Even after the state meet, the Senators still have plans, including the NXR Southwest Regional Championships in Mesa, Arizona.
Last season, Carson High girls cross country knew ahead of time how they would need to finish in order to win the regional and state meets.
The math has already started this season as coaches and athletes alike are looking for ways to compare times against the other top competition in the state.
“I was worried there would be a lot of pressure with how we did last season,” said Budd. “I’ve focused a lot about intentionally setting my own goals before races and not worrying about anyone else’s expectations for me.”
Budd added that drawing closer to her faith has helped her build a wall to outside noise.
There’s plenty of group motivation pushing them all as individuals, too.
Each runner is trying to get faster individually, but with friends to hold them accountable, motivation rarely lacks in the bunch.
“I thought there was less pressure because we felt more confident in ourselves,” said Romeo.
Several of Carson’s runners felt that the offseason workload has allowed them to get better times this season.
You can see how obvious the improvements were in meets like the Truckee Invite in late September.
Budd was a full minute faster than in ’22, Vea Miner was quicker by more than 50 seconds, Ponczoch and Hager both lopped off a large chunk of times from their 2022 season.
There’s even been another freshman that has broken into the mix this fall in Anna Shane, who has been a consistent top finisher.
“I am just here to run and do my best. I’m super happy I made varsity, it wasn’t something I was expecting,” said Shane. “It really benefitted me to have the other girls push me so I could become faster.”
Every so often, internal motivation may lack, but running is in their nature.
“You never regret going on a run,” said Ponczoch.
Editor's note: Previously, this story stated that the Class 5A state cross country meet was in Las Vegas. It will be hosted at Rancho San Rafael in Reno Nov. 4. That change has been corrected.