At his desk inside The Master’s University athletic offices Wednesday, cross country coach Zach Schroeder didn’t hesitate when asked whether he’d been surprised by freshman Wesley Methum’s stellar debut over the weekend.
“Not at all,” said Schroeder, who dubbed Methum’s race one the best debuts in program history.
Methum posted a time of 26 minutes, 15.5 seconds at the Mark Covert Invitational in Fullerton on Saturday, the shortest time among the Mustang men, who finished sixth in a loaded field of 14 teams.
The Master’s women took fourth place – the best finish by a non-NCAA Division 1 squad – behind strong runs from Mikala Fairchild (12th overall), Abigail Frankian (18th) and freshman Rachelle Nelson (24th).
Again, Nelson’s immediate success didn’t catch Schroeder off guard.
“She had tremendous training this summer, and she’s an unbelievably hard worker,” the coach said, adding that he believes Nelson and Cameron Bandstra, of the men’s team, will develop the most as the year progresses.
“They have loads of talent, and they really have tremendous character,” Schroeder said.
Of course, Schroeder also sees gobs of potential in Methum after the freshman finished 18th overall in a field highlighted by Cal State Fullerton and Loyola Marymount.
“He’s young. He’s a freshman. But if he wants to go far with this sport, he could,” Schroeder said.
So, too, could the Mustang men. Ranked fourth in the preseason NAIA poll, the Mustangs are looking for an eighth straight Golden State Athletic Conference title and a top-four finish at nationals.
A talented group came in fifth at nationals in 2016, the best finish in program history – but one spot off the podium.
“Finishing fifth was a little bit of a heartache,” Schroeder said. “… Our seniors remember that, and I think that’s going to create a lot of drive toward the top.”
Seniors Andrew Orona, Skyler Mikesell and Alec Franco finished 42nd, 43rd and 74th, respectively, on Saturday in what amounted to a tune-up for a race in Riverside on Sept. 16.
The Master’s women also used Saturday to begin gearing up for a run at a GSAC title.
In fact, Schroeder feels the women’s program is the conference favorite, but he also knows avoiding injury will be key.
“We are a very small team,” Schroeder said. “So if we get hurt, that could spell our downfall.”
That, though, wasn’t a problem Saturday in a strong first showing.
“They had a great season opener,” Schroeder said. “They really did.”