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Courtesy: Chris Reilly/Chris Reilly Photography

Leader of the pack

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SAN ANTONIO — Nina Herrera has been UTSA’s top finisher at every meet this season and the streak is at six if you go back to her freshman campaign.

The unusual part is you only would know it by looking at the team’s statistics because of her quiet demeanor and, most importantly, her focus on helping the Roadrunners succeed as a group.

With a year of experience under her belt and a renewed commitment to offseason training, Herrera has been the catalyst to what has been a solid season by UTSA leading into Monday’s Southland Conference Championships in Nacogdoches.

Herrera has been named the league’s Athlete of the Week twice this season and she is expected to be in the thick of things during the 6,000-meter run at Piney Woods Country Club, which is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

“The key to my race is staying relaxed and focused,” Herrera said. “Having already raced there once this season is a big advantage. It’s a difficult course that has a lot of hills, but I know what to expect. All my goals for this race are team-related. If everyone performs to their abilities, both the team and individuals will do good.”

Yes, in a sport that sometimes can be defined by individual success and accolades, the El Paso native is quite comfortable not being the center of attention.

She chooses to lead by example and being the top Roadrunner throughout the season has given her the confidence she needs to be successful.

It was just a year ago that she was experiencing her first year of college and she admittedly did not know what to expect.

Things started to come together for her at the conference meet in Beaumont and her inaugural campaign ended with her being UTSA’s top finisher at the NCAA South Central Regional.

At that point, however, Herrera knew she was going to have to redefine her offseason training and the results of her hard work have shown throughout the last two months.

“Last year, I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “After being a part of the team for a year, I knew what the expectations and goals were. I made sure I ran more during the summer and I think that’s been a big part of my success this season.”

UTSA, which placed fifth at last year’s Southland meet, welcomed back its entire roster from last fall.

Knowing that everyone was going to be back, Herrera and her teammates set forth a plan that they hoped would lead them to bigger and better things this season.

“Toward the end of last year, we got together as a team and set goals,” she said. “We are more unified this season and all of us are aiming for the same things. We don’t want to let each other down.”

Cross country coach Scott Slade has noticed the commitment that his sophomore harrier has made and he said the biggest reasons for her success are her ability to listen and eagerness to improve on a daily basis.

“Nina has the potential to be very good,” Slade said. “A big difference this year has been manipulating her workouts to keep her healthy. When she is healthy and training well, like she’s been this fall, she’s been able to do great things. She is very coachable and is seeing the dividends pay off this season.”

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