By Joe Naiman
Chelsey Cortez became a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics cross country All-American when she finished 22nd among the 323 women in the NAIA national championship race in Vancouver, Wash.
Cortez, a 2010 Ramona High School graduate, was on the California State University San Marcos team that won its third consecutive NAIA national
championship. The positions of the Cougars’ top five runners gave them 82 points. Second-place Azusa Pacific University, whose nickname is also the Cougars, had 91 points.
“It was such a dream come true for me,” Cortez said of being an All-American. “That was my goal at the beginning of the season.”
The top 30 finishers received NAIA All-American status. Cortez had a time of 18:15 on the 5,000-meter (3.1-mile) course.
“I’m really happy with it. I felt like it was a great accomplishment,” Cortez said. “After the race I was really satisfied.”
Cortez competed in the NAIA nationals as a freshmen in 2010 and finished 117th with a time of 19:29.
“It was something new, something I hadn’t really experienced before,” she said. “I didn’t really know what to expect.”
A school can enter up to seven runners; the top five finishers are scored. Last year Cortez was CSUSM’s seventh finisher.
“This year I had an idea of what the course was like,” she said. “It’s a really difficult course, so the times are really slow.”
Some of that was due to the mud.
“It had rained that week and it was pretty muddy,” Cortez said.
Some weather forecasts predicted snow the day of the Nov. 19 race.
“Luckily it didn’t snow,” Cortez said.
Last year Cortez wasn’t expected to be a scored competitor. She was the Cougars’ third runner in most of the 2011 races.
“It was more pressure,” she said.
Cortez and CSUSM Coach Steve Scott spoke before the race, and Scott put the situation into perspective.
“The coach really prepared me mentally,” Cortez said. “I definitely wasn’t focused on time this year. I was more focused on picking off girls and catching girls.”
Cortez began the race near the back.
“I started out conservatively,” she said. “Over the course of the race I probably passed like a hundred something girls.”
The runners included individuals who were not part of a team. Cortez finished 18th for the purposes of team scoring. She was the third finisher for the Cougars, four of whom earned All-American honors.
“It really came hand in hand with just going out there and competing,” Cortez said of being an All-American. “I didn’t realize how big of a difference from last year it was, my time, but I was really happy when I saw it.”
Scott has coached the Cougars’ cross country and track and field programs since the school initiated athletics in 1999. His own college career at the University of California Irvine included three NCAA Division II 1,500-meter championships between 1975 and 1977, and he held the American mile record for more than 25 years.
“He really knows what he’s doing,” Cortez said of Scott.
Of her success, she said, “I really think it’s all about the coaching. If you stick with it and get the right coach, amazing things can happen.”
Cortez also runs track for the Cougars and will likely compete in the 5,000-meter races during the 2012 track and field season.