TMU Insider: Steeplechase runners poised for breakthrough


At any time, Master’s coach Zach Schroeder could scroll to specific times on his laptop and detail the work of each of his runners.

He could tell you that freshman Wes Methum’s best time in the 5,000 meters is 22 seconds off hitting an NAIA national championship qualifying mark. Or that sophomore Josh Nunez needs to push 15 seconds faster in the 3,000 steeplechase if he’s to join Methum on a flight to Alabama next month.

But for Schroeder, while race results can be telling, they don’t tell the whole story.

“From what we’re seeing in practice, I think those guys are ready to have a little bit of a breakout performance,” Schroeder said, referencing the Bryan Clay Invitational at Azusa Pacific this Thursday and Friday.  

The list of TMU runners on the verge of a breakthrough also includes Alec Franco in the steeplechase and Stephen Pacheco in the 5,000.

For Franco, this will be a return to the event he finished eighth in at nationals a year ago, earning NAIA All-American status. He also won the Golden State Athletic Conference title in the event, but he has spent much of 2018 preparing for and running half marathons. Still, he believes the training positioned him to excel in a shorter race.

“It helped my (physical) strength and my mental strength as well,” he said. “Coming down to 3,000 doesn’t seem as daunting.”

The event has also given him an opportunity to serve as a mentor of sorts. Nunez began running the steeplechase earlier this season in part because he saw Franco run it.

“He gives me tips. He helped critique my hurdling form,” Nunez said. “He’s been part of that process. It will be cool to run it next to him rather than him just coaching me on the sidelines.”

Said Franco: “I think (Nunez has) really growing into the steeple. I think that’s where he’ll be the next couple years.”

What’s the hardest part of a distance event that includes a handful of hurdles and a water jump?

“Just pushing through the middle portions of the race is the most critical,” Franco said. “It seems pretty easy for a while, then laps 5, 6, 7, those are pretty grueling laps. Staying focused for those couple minutes will usually lead to a good time.”

Franco and Nunez will be aiming for a time of at least 9 minutes, 32 seconds, which is the consideration mark for the NAIA. The automatic qualifying mark is 9:24. Franco’s collegiate best is 9:22.33.

As for Pacheco, if he runs like he did at the Oxy Distance Carnival, he won’t have much time to make up to qualify for nationals. At the March 10 race, he ran a 15:03.75 — just four seconds off the NAIA consideration time.

Methum has a tougher road. But again, Schroeder emphasized that what he’s seen from Methum in practice leads him to believe the freshman has progressed beyond what his race time would suggest.

On the girls side, Seanna Nalbandyan is the lone TMU athlete to qualify for nationals to this point. She has run the NAIA’s third-fastest time in the 400 hurdles this season (1:01.81).

Look for the Canyon High graduate to be another highlight for the Mustangs during the annual two-day event at Azusa Pacific.

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