By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Mark Bussen spent three years away from the Clovis High cross country program, at least in name.
Bussen coached the CHS program from 1998-2002 before stepping away when his own children were starting to enter sports. When then-coach Brian Stacy asked him to come back after accepting the school’s athletic director position last year, Bussen didn’t hesitate.
“I haven’t really quit (the program) in terms of supporting the kids,” Bussen said. “When Brian called, my kids all wanted me to coach again.”
Clovis is co-hosting the season-opening Mike Boit Invitational with Eastern New Mexico University today at Ned Houk Park. The Wildcats and Lady Cats also have their own invitational later this month.
Senior Vanessa Croke, one of four runners returning from the girls’ Class 5A state-qualifying team last year, said the Lady Cats have the experience and ability to do well.
“I’d like to see us be in at least the top four or five (teams at state) this year,” she said. “I think we have a really solid five girls on varsity.”
Sophomore Caitlin Waters led CHS last year at state, placing 11th, while freshman Michelle Schenck was 13th, sophomore Kayla Merritt was 43rd and Croke placed 70th.
Senior James Chavez is the top runner back for the boys. Stacy elected not to take the boys team to state last fall despite a second-place finish, believing they would struggle to be competitive.
The move was designed to push the boys into a better work ethic, Bussen said.
“What it did was set a tone,” Bussen said. “I’ve seen a marked improvement in the intensity level. We don’t have a ton of talent in our upper-class pool, but we do have some talent in the eighth and ninth grade classes.”
Chavez said from his perspective, it wasn’t a bad decision.
“I had a lot of problems last year, so I didn’t really mind,” he said. “This year, I want to go out there and be able to compete.”
He noted that Clovis hasn’t sent a boys team to state for a while. Even with their overall youth, Chavez hopes to end that streak this year.
“I’d love to lead our team out there,” Chavez said. “These guys have a lot of potential. If they keep running together, by the time they’re juniors and seniors, they’ll be a strong team.”
Bussen hopes both of his squads can take the next step up in the district as well.
“My goal is always a district championship,” he said. “I think the girls have a shot at that. I think the girls are the kind of team that will have a chance to win a trophy (top three) and compete for a state championship.”