In the wild, cougars are great sprinters and can reach speeds of 40 MPH.
In high school cross country races, the Cougars from McFarland worked together to go the distance and win races.
McFarland flashed its running prowess Saturday at the Kern County Cross Country Championships, winning the team title in both the girls and boys varsity 3-mile races on a beautiful fall day at Hart Park.
The Division III school proved that talent outweighs numbers and pulled out a pair of close victories. The McFarland boys, who have won the meet multiple times in the past, edged Shafter by two points to take first place.
"I just told the guys before the race, 'If you want it, go out and perform. If you want to win, go run like it.' It's that simple," said McFarland boys coach Joel Lopez. "I wasn't expecting to win because we have Shafter, Ridgeview, Stockdale and Tulare Union, who have all beat us before this season. I thought we could win, but they needed to come out and do it."
Individually, Stockdale's Connor Fisher captured the title of boys champion with a time of 15 minutes, 5.6 seconds, which was 25 seconds ahead of runner-up Kyle Miller of Tulare Union.
The McFarland girls also came up with a close win, clipping defending champion Stockdale by two points. Individually, Shafter's Nicolette Aldape took first place with a time of 18:16.5, almost 7 seconds ahead of East's Sydney Roman.
On Saturday, after finishing in second place the last two years, McFarland earned its first team victory at the Kern County Cross Country Championships.
"I am really happy for the girls. They work extremely hard," said McFarland girls coach Amador Ayon. "That's the last thing I told them before the gun went off, that I don't think anyone else out here works as hard as them. The stuff we do, and the hill training we do, is pretty crazy and I don't see many other teams doing that kind of stuff. So we deserve this win."
The McFarland girls were paced by fourth-place finisher Veronica Garcia (18:27.1), as well as Jennifer Ramirez, who placed ninth (18:45.6), Carmen Hernandez, who took 17th (19:26.4), Yasmine Felipe, who took 21st (19:38.9) and Daniella Medina, who placed 24th (19:46.5, 25).
In the boys race, Danny Garcia was the fastest runner for McFarland, taking third in a time of 15:36.0. He was followed by teammates Thomas Valles in seventh (15:47.2), Abran Ayon in 11th (16:02.0), Luis Orozoco in 15th (16:12.9) and Flabio Mercado in 23rd (16:24.5).
Lopez said the win was crucial for the Cougars as they are now coming down the home stretch of the season.
"I think we are in a perfect spot now with this win," Lopez said. "We needed this win coming off of other meets and the kids weren't seeing the success that we are used to. Now that they got the win, they have that feeling and hopefully it carries over for the rest of the season."
Fisher, a senior, made his win in the varsity boys race look easy. He broke out in front of the pack at the 1,200-yard mark and ran alone the rest of the way. After the race, Fisher seemed as if he could have easily ran another three miles.
"Today was just a speed workout," Fisher said. "You will usually go faster when you race against somebody and in a few weeks we will have the Valley and State Championships and I know people will be pushing me then. (When I run alone) I just try to go faster than my last time and when I get tired, just try harder."
Fisher, with the aid of his teammate Blake Haney, who placed 13th in his first race of the season after being sidelined with a thigh injury, helped Stockdale take third in the team standings.
Aldape, a senior in tall pink and black striped socks honoring Shafter's mission of running for breast cancer awareness, had to overcome more of a challenge to pull out her victory.
After finishing third in the standings as a sophomore in 2010 and then second as a junior last year, she finally earned the top spot, thanks to a tough push from East's Roman.
"This is great. I have been wanting this for so long," Aldape said. "I have been working hard, doing my best and pushing myself at practice. I have been trying to run with the guys and they have helped me improve and cheered me on. I am really thankful for the teammates I have this year."
Despite getting boxed in at the beginning, Aldape battled her way out. She then did her best to stay with Roman, who didn't compete in the Kern County Cross Country Championships last year and who Aldape has been looking forward to racing against. The two stayed close for most of the race until the last 800 yards, when Aldape pulled away for the win.