By Jesse Muñoz For The Signal What a difference a year makes. For College of the Canyons sophomore runner Amanda Finn, that difference has included a pair of top-seven finishes in the first two races of the season, and a new leadership role as one of the elder members of a young COC cross-country squad. Last fall, Finn, who attended Valencia High School, was a contributor for a talented Cougars team that finished eighth at the state championship meet and saw three sophomore runners move on to compete with four-year programs. But her contributions typically came from the back of the pack, with Finn rotating through COC’s fifth, sixth and seventh spots throughout the season. “As a freshman, we needed her for scoring and points, but now that those sophomores are gone she’s really stepped up and taken on that leadership role,” said COC cross-country/track & field head coach Lindie Kane. “She understands that and is a really big part of the young group that we have right now.” COC’s 2018 roster also includes fellow sophomores Samantha Bell and Celeste Gonzalez, who rejoins the program after competing as a freshman in 2016. New to the team is freshman Takaira Beard who comes to cross-country after a stellar track & field season that netted a WSC title in the high jump and a trip to the state championships where she competed in the heptathlon, high jump and 4×100-meter relay events. Also added to the mix are freshmen Abigail Ornelas and Graciela Torres. Just two races into the 2018 campaign, Finn has established herself as the team’s clear No. 1 runner. “Amanda put in the work over the summer and now it’s beginning to pay off,” Kane said. “She’s taken on a leadership role for this team, and she’s running lifetime bests in the 5K.” Indeed, Finn’s hot start to the season has been impressive. She opened the season with a time of 23:46.3 on the 5K course at Arroyo Verde Park to finish seventh at the Ventura College Invitational. That pace also ranked third among runners from the Western State Conference (WSC). Two weeks later, Finn took sixth place at the Oxnard College Invite with a time of 20:42.2. That result was 17 seconds quicker, and 12 spots better, than her performance on the same course a year ago. Canyons also finished tied for second with Ventura College in the team standings. “A lot of high mileage this summer,” Finn said about the difference in her off-season training regiment this season, as compared to being an incoming freshman. “It’s given me better aerobic capacity and allowed me to run better times than I did last year. “I feel like all the training that we’ve done has brought us to a point where this team can really compete against all the top programs in the state.” The opportunity to compete against the best in the state comes Friday, with the Cougars set to run in the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) Southern California Preview at Don Knabe Community Regional Park in Cerritos. The event will provide teams with the first look at this year’s CCCAA Southern California championship event scheduled for Nov. 2 “It’s a showcase of some of the best community college runners in California,” Kane said about the annual SoCal Preview. “It’s very competitive.” A year ago, Finn finished 75th at the SoCal Preview in the field of 210 runners at the event which COC hosted at Central Park. While she competed, she did not score for the Cougars in either the SoCal Preview or SoCal Championship events. This time around, things should be different, even if that’s not the immediate goal. “The main focus will be getting on this course, looking at the layout, and then basing our training (for the rest of the season) on what we’ll need to do to qualify for state the championships,” said Kane.” Finn seemed to echo those thoughts. “My mindset this week is not to look at the place so much,” Finn said. “In the first two races I knew I could be a top-10, this week I’m not really thinking about that, it’s more getting a good time that’s faster or close to my time from last week. “My real goal is to make it to state.” Lady Cougars Win Second WSC Tourney COC freshman Jessie Lin finished Monday’s round at Santa Barbara Golf Club with a score of 78 to win medalist honors and lift Canyons to its second WSC tournament victory in as many tries. The Lady Cougars topped the six-team field with a four-player score of 325. COC was followed by SBCC (333) and in third-place Bakersfield College (372). Lin’s 6-over score bested the second-place scores turned in by Georgia Shevitt (80) of Moorpark and Alexa Bleth (80) of Santa Barbara City College. Haruka Koda and JoJo Roecker both came back to the clubhouse with scores of 82 for Canyons, while Hart High School alum Paige Heuer figured into the final score with a round of 83. COC will compete next at the Kern River Golf Course during Monday’s WSC event. Tee time is scheduled for 11 a.m. Cougar Football Invites First Responders to Home Opener The COC Athletic department is inviting all first responders — Fire Department, EMT, Sheriff’s Dept., Police, Highway Patrol etc. — to attend Saturday’s Cougar football home game free of charge. Canyons (2-0) will host Santa Barbara City College (1-1) at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Cougar Stadium in the 2018 home opener. The Cougars are coming off a 47-14 victory over Grossmont College in Week Two that saw sophomore quarterback Andrew Brito pass for 368 yards and three touchdowns. The Vaqueros were defeated 35-13 by San Bernardino Valley College in week two. COC enters this week’s contest vs. SBCC as the No. 6 ranked team in the state according to the most recent California Community College Sports Information Association (CCCSIA) Poll. Canyons is also ranked No. 8 in the JC Athletic Bureau Head Coaches Poll. General admission tickets to all Cougar football games are $10. Kids 10 and under and seniors over 60 are free. In addition, all COC football home games will be live streamed to fans through a broadcast partnership with SoCalCollegeSports.com. Archived footage of the game can also be viewed at any time following the broadcast.