Cross-country team looks to build on strong season

If you're going to follow up on the most successful season in team history, it doesn't hurt to spend the summer with an Olympian.

A photo of SF State cross-country team member Ryan Chio running during the Crystal Springs Invitational in Belmont.

Fifth-year senior Ryan Chio competes in the Crystal Springs Invitational in Belmont on Sept. 7. He and his fellow cross-country team members are hoping to build on last year's successful season, which included a run to the national championships. (Photo: Tyler Deniston)

"It was an amazing experience," said Bruk Assefa, a senior member of the men's cross-country team who trained alongside Olympic gold medalist Haile Gebrselassie while home in Ethiopia this summer. "This guy has 26 world records, and I'm running next to him. It was truly amazing."

Assefa and his fellow cross-country runners are hoping to make a return trip to the national championships, which they reached last year for the first time. The team finished 22nd out of 32 teams. Assefa's finish in the 10-kilometer race was the second-best finish ever for a Gator, and every other runner surpassed their personal best time.

Tom Lyons, who coaches both the men's and women's cross-country teams, said getting back to the national championships is definitely on everybody's mind.

"The whole experience of getting to nationals was amazing," Lyons said. "I would like to make sure we're always there, if possible."

The team started the season by hosting and winning the Crystal Springs Invitational, then placing 16th out of 40 teams at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minnesota. They are currently ranked 10th in the West Region.

Up next is the SF State Gator Invite in Golden Gate Park on Oct. 11, followed by the Santa Clara Invitational in Sunnyvale on Oct. 19. Then it's off to the California Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships in Chico on Oct. 26, and hopefully the Division II West Region Championship and the National Championships, both in Spokane, Wash., in November.

"Everything we do during the season is to get us ready for the postseason," Lyons said.

A photo of the SF State men's cross-country team at the Crystal Springs Invitational in Belmont.

The men's cross-country team poses for a team photo at the Crystal Springs Invitational in Belmont on Sept. 7. (Photo: Tyler Deniston)

Though the team graduated four of the seven runners on last year's championship team, Lyons said the newcomers have stepped in to fill their shoes and are poised for a strong season.

Last year's success set a standard the team is working hard to uphold, said Ryan Chio, a fifth-year senior.

"Once you're on this team, you have to be committed. You have to be dedicated, and you have to make sacrifices. That's what it takes," Chio said. "We do every little thing that will help us. Core exercises, drills, stretching, using the trainers more often. Everyone's careful and dedicated."

Assefa, who was named to the All-West Region team last year, said he hopes all the hard work means more of his SF State teammates are receiving accolades at the end of this year.

"I want to see all these guys up there," he said. "I want my team to be up there with me."

For more about the men's cross-country and other SF State athletics teams, visit

-- Jonathan Morales