Freshman AJ Vega breaks freshman boys cross country record

Vega placed runner up at the Olathe Midseason Hootenanny with a time of 16:16.9

Sprinting+to+secure+his+placement%2C+freshman+AJ+Vega+finishes+in+fifth+place+with+a+time+of+17%3A10+at+the+DeSoto+Triangular+meet+Saturday%2C+Sept.+4

By Debbie Greenfield

Sprinting to secure his placement, freshman AJ Vega finishes in fifth place with a time of 17:10 at the DeSoto Triangular meet Saturday, Sept. 4

Gabby Delpleash, JagWire reporter/photographer

After running a grueling 5k race on the grass, freshman AJ Vega crossed the finish line in second place with a time of 16:16.9 at the Midseason Hootenanny on Saturday, Sept. 26. Vega broke the previous freshman boy school record of 16:30, set by Nick Schmidt at Topeka-Seaman in 2016.

Having originated from playing club soccer for the SDB Academy Galacticos team, Vega’s running career began in middle school.

“I wanted to get fit [for soccer] and my parents saw something in me, they thought I was really good at running,” Vega said. “[When I started cross country] I realized this is something I can be really good at. I just started working at it and coming here, to high school, I realized that I could be a lot better.”

Vega’s “charismatic” and “goal-driven personality” allowed him to integrate well with the boys cross country team according to head cross country coach Chris McAfee.

“He’s just a super good-natured young man. He’s got a great work ethic and a lot of inner pride, so that’s one of the things that really drives him,” McAfee said. “He’s somebody who’s constantly looking for ways to be better and learn.”

Upon entering high school, Vega had to choose between soccer or cross country to pursue as a fall sport. His aptitude for distance

Almost to the finish line, freshman AJ Vega puts in one last sprint finishing in first place for Mill Valley, Saturday, Sept. 4

running ultimately led him to choose cross country.

“I’m better at running than I am at soccer,” Vega said. “I still want to play with my club team because we’re pretty good, but running is something that I can continue to do throughout high school and college.”

Vega’s passion for running carried over to his performance at the Olathe Midseason Hootenanny, when he finished runner up to Shawnee Mission Northwest runner, Shane Mullen, in the boys varsity race.

“My thoughts [during the race] were to just keep going at it and see how far I could make the gap,” Vega said. “As I was getting to the two mile marker I started to get tired, but I wanted to keep going because I wanted to help the team get as many points as possible.”

McAfee attributes Vega’s success to having the ability to set goals and work hard to achieve them.

“[Vega’s] trying to find ways to get better. A lot of times it’s easy to be the best runner on a team and not have a desire to improve,” McAfee said. “He’s definitely not satisfied and is still looking for ways to get better at practice. There is no ‘I’m satisfied now’, he’s super honest and reflective and that’s what I appreciate about him most.”

Smiling, freshman AJ Vega starts his mileage run with the boys cross country team Monday, Sept. 21 (By Evan Sherman)

Senior Cameron Coad developed a friendship with Vega through the leadership roles the pair hold on the boys cross country team.

“He really leads as a freshman. We kind of lead the same way. I think that my leadership has reflected off of him and he’s taking points from me,” Coad said. “In our races we stick together; sometimes we’ll disagree on things, but it all comes together in the end, almost like a neat bow on a present. [Vega’s] going to be a stud.”

With the freshman boys 5k record under his belt, Vega has monumental goals set for the rest of his freshman season.

“I want to be in the 15:00s and I want to break the [school-wide] record of 15:52. But the one thing I’m looking forward to achieving as a team is to win state,” Vega said. “Winning state [for the boys team] would be a very big accomplishment and I think that we can do it.”

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