By Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director
The plan was not outrageously ambitious.
Stephen Pacheco’s goal entering Friday’s prelim was to finish in fifth or sixth place of his heat. Doing so would secure a place in Saturday’s 5,000-meter final and conserve enough energy to succeed there.
But, with roughly 400 meters remaining, Pacheco (pictured above, left) found the top seven runners were too close for comfort. He charged.
“He wanted to make sure he had his spot secured in the top six,” TMU track and field coach Zach Schroeder said from Gulf Shores, Alabama. “Stephen’s race IQ is the best it’s ever been, and he is ready to claim All-American honors tomorrow in the final.”
Pacheco and 15 others will jostle for eight All-American slots at 3:55 p.m. PST on Saturday.
In prelims, he finished with the third-fastest time in his heat and the 10th-fastest overall, advancing to an NAIA final for the first time in his career.
Last season, Pacheco entered prelims ranked 19th in the 5K and ultimately missed the cut. He felt he left too much in the tank and said the key this year was to be “mentally strong for every race, be all in.”
He was locked in Friday, moving up four spots over the final 400 meters in what was overall a slow race. Pacheco finished in 15 minutes, 10.21 seconds.
Pacheco’s collegiate best in the event is 14:39.75, a mark he hit at the Oxy Invite in Los Angeles earlier this month.
Pacheco qualified for NAIA nationals in the 5K and in the 3,000 steeplechase. He raced the latter event for the first time in his career at GSAC Championships in April because he said it was on his “bucket list.” He won the race, hitting an NAIA “A” standard in the process, but the 5K remained his focus. Friday, his dedication paid off.
“All glory to God,” Pacheco said.
Oscar KipKoros of Oklahoma City University posted Friday’s fastest time, finishing in 14:57.66.
TMU’s Wesley Methum finished outside the 16-man qualifying group, bringing his sophomore season to a close. In the fall, he figures to be a crucial part of a cross country team that’s expected to heavily contend for a 10th straight Golden State Athletic Conference title and potentially a podium finish at nationals.