Boys and girls cross country has high hopes for CIF excellence not just because of the quality of the runners but because of a division change that some view as a slight.
Not Coach Joe Soto, though. Soto says it encourages his runners to be ready for advancing further than ever before and that will require the best they have to offer.
“We are looking really strong,” said Soto, who is the head coach for both the boys and girls varsity cross country, during an interview in the coach’s office just prior to leaving for a match in Riverside. “I think going into the season we looked a lot stronger. We looked really strong. And now we looked stronger than we would have because something’s happening this year that hasn’t happened since I think maybe the 80s. Which is actually we are competing in Division 4 as opposed to Division 3 which makes us much more competitive.”
Divisions are based on school size and since South Pasadena High School’s size decreased, it dropped the cross country team down a notch to Division 4, which is considered not as competitive as Div. 3, according to Soto.
“In Division 3 we fought so hard,” Soto said. “We were definitely a team that other teams looked out for. In CIF, we were an inch away from going on to state and that has always been our goal. Now that we are in Division 4 that should be more attainable.”
Soto said that boys cross country does excellent year after year in league play and the girls are getting better.
“South Pasadena is an extremely competitive team,” he said. “On the boys side, although we don’t take this for granted, we do very well consistently. On the girls side, our major competition is La Cañada and last year they were league champions. The (So Pas) boys have been league champions for the last couple of years.”
Girls cross country is improving but they still have not overcome the Spartans hurdle.
One of the challenges for the girls is their roster is much smaller than the boys’.
“This year I’ve tried even harder to recruit as many people as I can,” he said. “The truth is it’s a numbers game. The more people I can get out here the easier it is to find talent. Right now, there are kids playing football that would be great cross-country runners but how do you convince someone who wants to be on the football team and perform well as opposed to being on the cross country team and perform great.”
Soto is confident that his teams will do well in the upcoming season, but he also hopes his runners will discover the joy of working together as a family. Soto calls it “team bonding,” something he believes is as important as winning.
He said that he doesn’t cut people from the team because of performance, he only cuts people from the team based on effort. He stresses that being a member of the cross-country team is being a member of the family. It might be a second family, Soto says, but it’s still a family; a strong bond that people can come back to. Soto is an alumnus of the cross-country team. His coach was on the team. His two sons are alumni. The list can be increased ad infinitum, he said.
“When we talk about family, cross-country wise, it’s massive,” he said. “One of the things I personally instituted was the leadership creed. So that’s something I take great pride in and because I initiated that and developed that, it’s very important to me.”
Members of the Leadership Creed wear belts that signify their acceptance into the fraternal family of cross-country.
“This is as important as winning,” Soto said. “Well, winning also is important and I think the boys and girls are going to better than ever before this season.”
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