By Daeton Winebrenner
Most college teams recruit from all across the globe to field championship teams, but the Hutchinson Community College women’s cross country team is heading to nationals with an almost completely homegrown squad. Of the 10 Blue Dragons on the roster, nine are from Kansas.
The team is led by first-year head coach Jafet Molinares, who previously a coach for Fort Scott.
“Coming here, we’re in a much bigger, better town, a lot more places to run at where we could almost pick a new spot to run at every single day,” Molinares said. “It has all these recipes and tools to make a successful not student athlete, but distance runner.”
The NJCAA Division 1 championships are Saturday in Huntsville, Ala.
A good place to develop is very important for HutchCC, with Kansas having many diamond-in-the-rough runners.
You get a lot more local individuals or individuals that are maybe 45 (minutes) to an hour away and you’ll get a lot of talent from there,” Molinares said. “A lot of that has to do with the hidden talent or hidden gems of individuals that are underdeveloped because they didn’t just focus on running.”
One of those developed talents is All-American sophomore Serenity Larson, who finished 12th in the 2022 NJCAA Division 1 Women’s Cross Country championship as a freshman.
“That was kind of part of what people were talking about last year about this team was that we were one of the highest ranked teams in the nation, and we all came from Kansas,” Larson said. “We didn’t have any internationals and you will rarely see that.”
This season was a shake-up for returning sophomores, with the school hiring a new coach after a “dream season” as described by Larson.
“We were all excited and very nervous at the same time,” Larson said. “I mean, we were a top-five team in the nation and then we got thrown a new coach last minute.”
The team has struggled a little to live up to last year’s performance, but Molinares still sees the positives in the negative.
“I think there’s definitely a lot of expectations coming in and I think it’s pretty easy to say we didn’t necessarily do exactly what we wanted,” Molinares said. “I still think there’s a lot of places where we all grew individually andt definitely brought us together.”
Even through the struggles, the team has continued to grow and develop.
“I think this year we’ve experienced more growth than we did last year,” Larson said. “We’ve had to go through more challenges and especially being put more in tougher situations where we’ve had to learn to adapt and grow as athletes.”
A large part of the team’s training is focus and discipline, as Molinares believes it’s what strengthens a team.
“You’re going to have your good days, you’re going to have your bad days and it’s battling through those bad days when you don’t want to get out the door and get those runs in,” Molinares said. “Those are the days that, of course, are going to make you better.”
Molinares believes that this is just the beginning for this era of Blue Dragon women’s cross country, and something big is on the horizon.
“I can’t tell you when, but there’s going to be a breakthrough,” Molinares said. “When there is a breakthrough, I think there’s going to be a huge relief.”