PALATINE, Ill. – On the nation's top NJCAA Div. III men's cross country team in 2013, competition among teammates was at an all-time high on a team loaded with talent. With the incredible depth the Hawks possessed, any of the top eight runners could place as the No. 1 runner in the meets.
However, freshman Juan Barajas (Hoffman Estates, Ill./Schaumburg) stood out among the group. Barajas was a model of consistency for the Hawks in 2013, placing as the team's top runner in six of seven meets. The Region IV Runner of the Year and All-American can now call himself the 10th Harper College Athlete of the Week for the 2013-14 school year.
Head coach Jim Macnider knew of Barajas's ability back in 2009 and 2010 when he coached Barajas as a freshman and sophomore at Schaumburg High School. Barajas made an immediate impact for Harper in his first collegiate meet, placing 29th in a time of 26:45 in his first career 8K race.
"He does what you tell him to, and it paid off," Macnider said. "He ran quite a bit over the summer, and that's obvious by how he started off the season."
He continued to be the Hawks' top guy throughout the season, finishing as Harper's top runner in the Illinois Intercollegiate, College of DuPage Invite, Benedictine Invite, Bradley Classic and Region IV Championship (PR time of 26:25). Many of these meets featured four-year universities.
"I'm not sure if it was the hilliness or the travel. He still hung in there and probably would have been in the top five if that didn't happen," Macnider said. "He had a great season. He was our most consistent and reliable guy."
Barajas enjoyed the trip to nationals, where he and his teammates visited The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as well as four different states.
"We accomplished what we said we wanted to do in the beginning of the season, to become three-time national champions," he said.
Barajas is looking forward to the spring 2014 track and field season, when he will run the 5k and 10k races.