First meet is today at Woodward Park

It all started with a collective, “What’s in the box?”

Following a relaxed Friday morning practice, the Porterville College cross country team persuaded head coach Michael “Kaz” Kasimoff to reveal the contents of two boxes spotted in his office.

The boxes, brought to the Pirates’ weight room for an unveiling, revealed the new uniforms, apparel and shoes for the team’s breakout season.

“They have zippers!”

“I have to put these on!”

“How much of this can we keep?”

The athletes’ excitement was contagious with smiles and laughs all around, which should be a good sign as they begin the season at Fresno’s Woodward Park for the Fresno City College Invitational this morning.

The women will run a 5,000-meter course at 8:30 a.m. and the men will run a 4-mile course at 9:15 a.m.

“A lot of our runners are running a cross country course (for the first time),” Kasimoff said. “I’m hoping that, and it’s been my goal, to not stop running. So again no walking, so continue running throughout the entire course. And finish up the best that you can.”

The team has 10 local Orange Belt runners and is made up of 13 athletes, eight men and five women. Kasimoff is also a local face. The first-year coach competed in track and field at Monache High for three years, coached football and track at Porterville High, and is now the head track and field coach and an assistant football coach for Granite Hills High.

His connections throughout the area were helpful in recruiting this season. Nasario Gomez and Daniel Alvarado, close friends and Granite Hills grads, said the coach convinced them to run by saying the other would do it.

“He just knew, I’d run because Danny was,” said Gomez. He added that he enjoys running with the team and when he’s had to miss practice, he felt sad during the rest of the day.

As of now, the team’s top male runners are Rafael Hurtado from Lindsay and Angel Roman of Porterville High.

“(They) are neck and neck in their training, they’re both really good training partners. Been really helping one another,” Kasimoff said. Hurtatdo had a 5,000 meter personal record of 16 minutes, 48.6 seconds in high school while Roman, who graduated in 2017, PR’d at 21:52.

“As far as the girls right now, we have Veronica Buckman from Granite Hills mixed in with Irelynn Weaver from Porterville and Arlette (Rodriguez) from Harmony, all shaping up for the girls side,” Kasimoff said. “Should be fun to watch and see what they can do.”

Another 2017 grad, Rodriguez PR’d at 30:22.5 in the 5K. Weaver and Buckman did not run cross country in high school but Weaver PR’d at 15:46.13 in the 3,200 meter run in 2018. Buckman was a hurdler and short distance runner but she did have a 2:59.41 PR in the 800 in 2018.

A standout in volleyball, soccer and track for the Grizzlies, Buckman wanted to continue athletics in college and was open to the challenge of cross country.

“I have a very open mind in competing and doing something new,” Buckman said. “So doing this, getting out of my comfort zone was definitely different but being able to still do a sport, I was very open to it.” 

Having a former coach to help guide her doesn’t hurt either.

“Kaz is amazing,” Buckman said. “He is very encouraging, supportive, and motivating to do and allow us to do better. And with him being my coach for two years, and this is the third year, I was so happy and glad for him to be my coach again.”

This is the women’s second season and the men’s first after a decades-long hiatus. For Kasimofff the focus this season is simply on improving the athletes’ overall fitness level and helping them to get better times.

“A successful season for me is to see some of our times improve and continue to improve, and we continue to get better and better,” Kasimoff said.

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