The Charlotte 49ers cross country team kicked off their season with an impressive victory in the Mountain to Sea Open event in Boone on Sept. 18 where the 49ers placed first with 18 points, followed by Appalachian State with 43 points.
Leading the charge for the Niners was none other than Paul Arredondo, who has had a stellar cross country career for Charlotte the past few seasons and has set personal records in both races so far this year.
"It feels great to be back out there competing, especially since I haven't raced since February,” said Arredondo. “It felt pretty good. I'm happy to have won and am excited to see what we can do as a team."
In the first meet, Charlotte finished all over the top of the leaderboards with 12 of the top 16 runners coming from the 49ers. In addition to this, the top three runners all came from the 49ers with Arredondo, Nickolas Scudder and Avery Cannon rounding out the top three.
“I was really happy with the performance from Charlotte. I think we showed a lot of depth,” said Arredondo. “I was pretty excited to see all the freshmen. [We had] two freshman in the top seven. We still had some people that performed better so that’s awesome to see.”
Arredondo finished the opening meet in first place with a time of 20:06.58, which is a personal record for him in the 6.4k race.
“That feels really good because the season was really up in the air for a while,” said Arredondo.
In Charlotte’s most recent cross country meet at Louisville on Oct. 3, Arredondo finished in first place and set a personal and school record for the 8k race with a 20:30.04 time.
"Winning the race felt amazing," said Arredondo. "This was probably one of my first big collegiate wins. We went out really slow and at three miles, I decided to make a move and just get the race going. Once I had a gap, I just stuck with it and pushed my hardest until the end.”
As a team, Charlotte has placed in the top two in both races this season, with a first place finish at App State and a second place finish in Louisville, only behind Ole Miss. Arredondo was pleased with the way his teammates competed at the Greater Louisville Classic, beating quality competition from bigger conferences like Kentucky, Tennessee and Louisville.
“Overall, we're putting our name out there,” said Arredondo. “We're in Conference USA so it feels good to come out against these SEC schools and show them who we are."
Just like all other collegiate sports, cross country has had a slightly different year so far. Charlotte has fewer invitational meets to attend compared to a normal year and it was recently announced that the National Championship for cross country will be postponed until the spring of 2021 instead of November this year.
“It’s different for me but it’s different for everyone,” said Arredondo. “From a practice standpoint, all of the protocols and guidelines that we have to follow is different but I wouldn’t be at practice if I weren’t doing those. I’m glad they’re there and it’s also good that we get tested two or three times per week. I trust the people on my team that they’re making the right decisions.”
With all the additional protocols and guidelines that student-athletes have to follow, one aspect that has changed since COVID-19 hit is how often teammates can meet up outside of practice and competitions.
“We can’t do team bonding stuff and hang out outside of practice, which really kind of bums me out,” said Arredondo. “We do zoom calls now so that’s different.”
This is Arredondo’s last season competing in cross country and with that, he has taken a bigger leadership role more than ever this year. He’s making a difference on the course with his teammates and off by participating with an organization called United in Gold with other student athletes and coaches.
“I’ve always considered myself to lead by example,” said Arredondo. “I think this year I can say I’m more of a leader, especially to the younger athletes. We really try to emphasize the culture we have on our team. I’m thankful for the foundation and program we have at Charlotte.”
If everything goes to plan, Charlotte’s next cross country meet happens on Oct. 16 when the 49ers take part in the UAB Blazer Invitational, which will be the last meet for the Niners before the Conference USA Championship on Oct. 31.
“My goal in those races is really to be in contention at the top,” said Arredondo. “I don’t want to be cocky but I’m definitely trying to adjust my ability this year and if I don’t win, I want [to finish] top 10.”
Over the past year and a half, Arredondo has been in contention for the top spots in conference meets. For his last season, Arredondo aims to accomplish as much as he can as a team and from an individual standpoint in order to compete for nationals in March.
“In cross country, I placed fifth last year so my conference goal is to win a team title for sure,” said Arredondo. “Individually, I want to win that race. Really, I need to stay consistent and be placing at the top at every event I go to so that I’m allowed to go to those national meets. So that’s also my goal is in March is to be able to go to the National Championship.”