Nov. 15, 2010
Melissa Hopper is ahead of her time.
At the 6K Big West Conference Championships last Saturday, Pacific's October Competitor of the Month clocked in a personal record of 23 minutes, 11 seconds - which ranks third all-time by a cross country runner at Pacific. The personal record also turned out to be a new freshman record.
Ironically, head cross country coach Josh Jones said, "It's hard to ask a freshman to lead a team."
And yet, the 18-year-old runner from San Jose, Calif. has set the pace for the Tigers in the team's previous three events, including a tenth place finish at the Triton Classic and a fourteenth place finish at the Bronco Invitational.
Most recently, Hopper's accomplishment at Big West this past weekend helped the Tigers finish ninth. But Hopper's record-setting time didn't come easy.
While her five-foot-five frame did the running, the thought of setting a new `PR' ran circles in Hopper's mind.
"That's what I was thinking pretty much throughout the race and that's what was keeping me going," she said.
After crossing the finish line, Hopper realized that she beat her previous PR by a large margin. But not even that feat was completely satisfying.
"I really wasn't too concerned about the record," said Hopper, who also acknowledged that she isn't focused on stats. "I'm pretty much going off myself and continuing to improve based on my own times."
"She's a workhorse," Jones said of his runner, "She's not afraid to push herself to the limit."
Jones, who is in his second year as the Tigers' cross country coach, watched videos of Hopper's races while she was in high school last year and could tell she was a competitor. So Jones isn't surprised that Hopper has been able to excel even in her first year at Pacific. "She just understands what it means to be a collegiate athlete."
According to Hopper though, her transition from high school to college has been about as rugged as the cross country terrain she has competed on. Before becoming a Tiger, Hopper resided in San Jose where she lived almost her whole life. When she moved in on campus, Hopper's biggest adjustment was making new friends. But this was easy as she has developed close friendships with her teammates. "We're all one big happy family," said Hopper.
As for her role as an athlete, Hopper said it took a while before she got accustomed to a new coach and training schedule. Under Jones, the cross country team works out every morning at around 6 a.m. In addition to weight training, workouts vary from one-hour long distance runs to shorter, more intense runs. "She has a high tolerance for pain so she can handle the workouts," said Jones.
On Saturday Nov. 13, Hopper and teammate Jazmin Quiroz (San Jose, Calif.) will be competing in the NCAA Regional held in Oregon, where they will be making their final runs of the season.
Hopper understands that finishing her freshman season on a high note is important for carrying momentum over to next season. For Hopper, that means setting a new personal record and breaking the school's all-time record of 22 minutes, 36 seconds.
"I'm going to have to work really hard but I think I can do it," said Hopper.
If she doesn't, Hopper still has three more years to do so.