National championship or bust

Abeita to lead Diné College men's cross-country team

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

TSAILE, Ariz., August 22, 2013

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(Courtesy photo – Diné College)

TOP: The Diné College men's cross-country team is prepping for the upcoming Northern Arizona University Invitational, which will be held in Flagstaff on Sept. 1.

SECOND FROM TOP: Diné College sophomore Dustin Abeita won the 2012 United States Collegiate Athletic Association national meet in Lake Placid, N.Y. Abeita is the top runner for the Diné Warrior cross-country team.

A s a freshman last year, Dustin Abeita probably had the biggest backstory a Hollywood producer could use for a film.

During the 2012 season he was listed as fourth best runner on the Diné College cross-country team before he emerged as the top runner national after winning the United States Collegiate Athletic Association meet in Lake Placid, N.Y. with a time of 27:36.61.

Not bad for a runner who picked up the sport until he was a senior in high school.

"I've improved a lot over one year of running," Abeita said. "I won a national title so it was a big improvement for me because I thought I would never win something like that."

With his championship win last year, it solidifies his spot as one of the top prospects for this upcoming cross-country season. Because of that, Abeita does acknowledge that there's a proverbial target on his back.

"There is more pressure because people are going to go after me," he confessed. "They're already talking about it and there are some guys that are training a lot harder than me."

Admittedly, Abeita said that includes his roommate – Ronald Hicks.

"He's just as fast as me, maybe even faster," Abeita said of Hicks, who placed fourth overall at last year's national meet.

Unfortunately, Hicks was not available to challenge Abeita during the team's final time trials, which took place at the Diné College campus in Tsaile, Ariz., on Aug. 16.

Instead, it was fellow sophomore Darnell Ben who gave Abeita a run for his money before the former Thoreau High graduate changed gears in the final two miles of the 8K race.

Besides those returning lettermen, the Diné Warriors also return two other runners – Justin Yazzie and Charles Manymules – that have experience at the collegiate level.

And with the addition of this year's freshmen class, which include Chadwick Arviso, Mika Clark, Darren Yazzie and Wyatt Bileen, the Diné College team is hoping to improve on its second place finish at last year's national meet.

"I see a national championship with this team," Diné College interim coach Abraham Bitok said. "I strongly believe we have that mix for them to bring that national championship back to the college."

With Abeita being the top runner and Hicks and Ben not too far behind, Bitok believes that this is the perfect setup to help shape their season.

"I think Dustin is going to be challenged by all these runners and they will be able to push him to another limit," he said. "And if you add my other runners to the mix, I have the potential to have six or seven runners that can finish anywhere in the top 3 on the team at any given race."

In other words, this team is full stacked. Nonetheless, Bitok said it all comes down to how they train for the next couple of months.

"We have so much potential but we have to stay focused," he said.

For a program that came close to winning its tenth national title last season, they are more determined to win it all this year.

"I really want us to do well as a team and get a national championship," Ben said. "I don't care where I finish as long as I can help the team."

Ben said it's beneficial to have a teammate like Abeita since his win last year serves as vehicle to help motivate the team.

"He's always there to push you and he's very consistent," he said.

Besides learning from Abeita, Ben said he would like the incoming freshmen to learn from his experience.

"I only ran two races last year," he said. "I was the second or third man on the team but I tore my meniscus by not listening to my coaches. To be consistent, you have to be a good teammate and help prevent others from getting injured."

As for the season, Ben said they have the ability to make some noise.

"I think we're going to be a big surprise," he said.

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