Facing their biggest challenge yet on the 2018 cross country schedule at the Fresno Invitational, the Panther men learned quickly how important they will need to remain healthy and train daily together in order to place in the top 5 in the CCCAA State Championship for the fourth consecutive year. Last week at the Tour de Cuesta the team ran without top runner Patrick Olson and newcomer Luis Meza. Back this week, the team dynamic and fitness showed both still need to be built as the Panthers placed an uncharacteristic seventh overall and even as the third best Northern Californa team. Facing a race temperature steadily rising over 80 degress each passing mile, the Panther men struggled to put together their signature second half the race losing valuable individual spots over the final two miles. Winning team Mt. SAC amassed a low score 23 points to take the win and regional foe American River College scored 96 points to take third overall. The Panthers tallied 217 points.
Sophomore Luis Perez used his experience from the championship meets he ran in last fall to finish as the highest placing Panther in 25th. His time of 22:03 on a hot day in Fresno was a personal best on the 4 mile layout at Woodward Park. Perez, who prepped at Greenfield High School, ran as high as sixth overall just before two miles showing the ability to be competitive with the best runners. Sophomore Nick Merillana ran even higher and was in eleventh at 3 miles before falling back to 38th in 22:27 in his fastest time in Fresno. Jacob Niles (22:47) was third across the line and ran along with Alfredo Mejia, Jr. (23:10) and Patrick Olson (23:18) much of the race. Newcomer Luis Meza, plugged into the line-up for the first time this fall, steadily moved up and passed Mejia and Olson to place 60th in 22:55. Victor Nambo (23:35) completed the top seven Panthers.
The Panthers will enjoy a bye week and compete next on Saturday, September 22nd at the CSU San Bernadino Coyote Challenge. There, they will face host San Bernadino Valley College for the first time outside of the CCCAA Championship along with perennial power Glendale College who placed second at the Fresno Invitational, San Diego Mesa College who was fourth, and College of the Sequoias of edged the Panthers for sixth place.