Author: Ryan Whalen
Sporting his orange Occidental singlet and a pair of gloves to combat the frigid Midwest weather, John Guzman (junior) began the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Hanover, Ind. two weeks ago in an unfamiliar position. The Tiger standout did not go out with the first pack; rather, he held back and stuck to his game plan.
Despite holding back his urge to immediately fly to the front of the group, the speedster saved energy for the grueling second half of the race and was able to add a sixth place finish to his already decorated resume.
“[Guzman’s] performance was nothing short of amazing,” Occidental head coach Rob Bartlett said. “He executed our strategy perfectly.”
Guzman was one of seven runners in a field of 275 to finish the 8k in under 25 minutes, posting an official time of 24:51.3 minutes.
His result earned him an All-American selection and the best finish by an Occidental runner in over 20 years.
The Riverside Community College transfer has grown accustomed to success in his first season as a Tiger.
He was named SCIAC Male Runner of the Year, SCIAC Newcomer of the Year and has twice earned SCIAC Male Student-Athlete of the Week honors.
In all five of his races this year, Guzman never finished outside of the top ten.
“The strategy was the same as regionals,” Guzman said. “There were a lot of fast guys in the field, so I went out conservatively and looked to move up as the race went on…I knew I had to give it everything I had.”
Picking off runners is exactly what he did.
He started to make his move about halfway through the race, slowly pushing ahead and overtaking his competition. By the end of his surge, Guzman made his way to sixth place, a position that he would hold onto for the remaining two kilometers of the race.
“I think I was around 30th place at the mile mark,” Guzman said. “I kept moving up, and my goal was to not let anybody pass me.”
While Guzman has been the focal point of the Occidental men’s cross country squad this season, teammate and fellow junior Colin Smith has been a rock for the program over the course of the last three seasons.
Smith also earned a bid to the NCAA Championships, finishing sixth at the West Regionals. But Smith was unable to compete due to an illness that he contracted just two days before the race. Despite the disappointment of not being able to run on the biggest stage, Smith has one more year of eligibility to leave his mark on Division-III cross country.
“It was very unfortunate to catch a stomach flu a few days before a race of that magnitude,” he said. “I was obviously very upset that I was not able to compete at nationals. All that’s left is to move on and keep training hard. It was still a good season for me, so I need to use that momentum straight into indoor/outdoor track.”
As for Guzman, he believes that this season was only the beginning of his legacy donning the black and orange. While his accolades are plentiful, an elusive NCAA title remains the only prize left to claim.
“I still have another year of eligibility,” he said. “That means I have another year to train and become faster and stronger. I do not think it is out of the question to win the national title.”
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