Gone is Isaac Acosta, as the 2016 CIF State qualifier has taken his running shoes to UC Riverside this fall.
But back at Lompoc High is a boys cross country team that head coach Casey Brooks believes can be just as effective as Acosta was on the trails.
Those long-distance runners have put in the miles near the West College Avenue campus throughout the summer, running every afternoon underneath balmy 70 to 80 degree temperatures. Brooks, who is entering his third year at the helm, has the boys team running around Beattie Park or on hills just to chase down an outright Los Padres League title this fall.
Brooks, who played baseball and water polo for Lompoc before diving into the long-distance realm of coaching, says he’s changed a lot as a cross country coach.
“This year, I’m more relaxed going in. My knowledge of the sport I think gets better every year and my rapport with the kids is very good,” Brooks said.
He’s seen on his mountain bike making sure his runners finishes their workouts and blurts out encouragement to his team of runners. He’s mixed up his workouts to help prepare his team for the upcoming meets this fall.
“Typically, one day is a long run depending on the kids. The varsity usually runs seven to eight miles,” Brooks said. “Then we have two days that incorporate hills, so we’ll run on the south side of town, usually around University Avenue or Beattie Park.
“One day is speed work, then another day they’re on non-pavement. Then when we get into the season, we pull back on the mileage and increase the speed of the workouts. It becomes tempo runs.”
But, with preparation comes this missing element for the Braves: Acosta, who graduated in June. Brooks described Acosta’s absence as a weird feeling.
“It’s very weird,” Brooks said. “It’s actually sad because he and I got along really well and he was a good role model in terms of work ethic. But to be honest, he left a really good legacy behind with these guys — and you can see the same work ethic in our returners. So his presence is still here.”
One of those runners Brooks cites is Greg Wuitschick, who is a returning junior on varsity.
“Greg has taken on that mantle of being the natural leader of the team. He’s quiet like Isaac was, and he works just as hard,” Brooks said.
Wuitschick has set high goals for himself before he laces up the cross country shoes.
“I’m trying to go for a nice good run and keep it to the low 16s. I’m trying to get 15:40 or 15:30 this season. I just want to run good, run soft and run light,” Wuitchick said.
He’s prepared for this season by running on hills and putting an emphasis on core workouts at the gym. He learned this running trait from Acosta last season.
“When I was running with him, he taught me that I can’t run with anyone. Even if someone is behind, I had to keep it up and keep at my pace,” Wuitchick said. “He was always ahead of me, so that was motivation for me. He was motivation for me to run faster.”
Outside of the junior, Brooks says he’s additionally high on returning senior Alexis Ramirez and returning junior Danny Caro.
Along with settling into his comfort zone as a head coach, Brooks adds that he’s un-stressed about setting up cross country meets now.
“The big thing now is knowing how to put on a meet and getting them ready for the season. I think that’s gotten easier,” Brooks said.
Two of the primary challenges for this Braves team will be the Mt. Sac Invitational meet down in Los Angeles and the Los Padres League finals, this year getting held at Morro Bay.
“Hardest will be Mt. Sac. But we’ll see how Morro Bay is because we normally don’t run on sand and they have it,” Brooks said.
The season begins on Wednesday, Sept. 6 with the Lompoc Invitational held at River Park. Start time is 3 p.m.