Angel Valdez thought she was setting her sights high when she emailed Cal State Bakersfield cross country coach Marcia Mansur-Wentworth at the end of May with her goals for the upcoming fall season.
“Low 18s,” she wrote, referring to a time of a little more than 18 minutes in a 5-kilometer race, “and to medal at the WAC (championships).”
Five months later, Mansur-Wentworth whipped out the printed copy of the goals she keeps in her office and reminded Valdez what they were.
“See, I didn’t even think about breaking (18 minutes),” Valdez said in response.
Valdez fulfilled both of those goals and then some on Saturday with a sixth-place, 17:20 finish at the Western Athletic Conference cross country championships in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She broke the school record for the best 5-kilometer race time, which she set at the end of September with a time of 17:34.
She still has at least one race left in her senior season — the NCAA West Regional on Nov. 10 in Seattle — but Valdez’s final year has already exceeded expectations.
“She’s gonna leave a trail of records here and there’s not gonna be another one like her,” Mansur-Wentworth said.
Valdez now holds CSUB’s best times in 4-kilometer, 5-kilometer and 6-kilometer races. She reset a school record in four of her five races this year and ended the team portion of her cross country career having led the Roadrunners in 15 straight races dating back to 2015.
“Most of cross country is based on the summer training, which you do on your own,” Mansur-Wentworth said. “The coach can’t be there and that was on Angel and her leadership.”
Valdez got married this summer and took a month off from training, but the day after she returned she organized a team meeting and training session at 6:30 a.m. Valdez led the workouts six days per week and gave teammates certain times to meet.
She tried to keep the runners on the dirt instead of bike paths because the hard surface is harder on their bodies. New to her this year, Valdez stressed recovery techniques like stretching and time in the ice tank after runs. She learned from last season when she dealt with knee problems developed in the preseason.
Valdez even “chewed them out,” Mansur-Wentworth said, when teammates slacked off.
The results were immediate. At CSUB’s season opener in Malibu, Valdez topped the Roadrunners’ 4-kilometer record (set by her) of 16:00 by one minutes and five seconds. One month later, Valdez bested the school’s 5-kilometer time. On Oct. 14, she took down her school-record 6-kilometer time by one minute.
“Her freshman year she did OK with the transition,” Mansur-Wentworth said. “Her sophomore year she got a little more competitive. … And then this year she was able to put everything together and was able to run fantastic when it counted.”
At one point during the year, Mansur-Wentworth told Valdez they needed to raise her expectations for everything she thought she was going to do during the year.
Valdez’s success this fall has caused her to reevaluate her goals for the track season in the spring. She looked up at the list of school records hanging on the wall in Mansur-Wentworth’s office and singled out the ones in her sights — the 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer times.
“Where’s the 5K time?” Valdez thought aloud. “Seventeen-fifteen (17:15)? Yeah I basically ran that on grass. … and that record has been held since 1982.
“I’m chasing down Tracy Schofield’s time (5K, 1982) and Pam Boyles’ (10K, 1991) time.”