Last year, there were only three girls and one guy to compete in a cross country race for Benedictine University Mesa cross country program.
This year, there will be eight total runners – three on the women's and five on the men's side, the largest crew yet for coach Courtney Teatro – as they kick off their 2017 season at the George Kyte Invitational hosted by Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff on Saturday.
Not only that, the men's group will be the first team, men or women, to have an official team score come Saturday. Last year's lone men's runner, Dennis Arthur, couldn't be happier.
"It's been a blessing to have people to run with," he said. "We have gotten used to all of our personalities, we are definitely bonding together.
"It's definitely pushing the envelope on my part and me having a year under my belt, I've been pushing the envelope with them to get them even faster."
The camaraderie this year has made all the difference for team to this point in the season. While last year was a very small crew, even a little jump in numbers makes a difference for both squads.
"It's a completely different dynamic," Teatro said. "They are all pushing each other to be their best. I don't think it's a matter of who gets first, second, third or fourth."
This is especially true on the men's side, where the arrow looks to be firmly pointed up entering 2017. Arthur heads the crew, returning after his freshman season saw him collect school records for both time and finish. Teatro also stated that he has had an excellent preseason that has already seen him drop three minutes off of his personal record.
Pushing him this year will be Chris Gutierrez, Josh Manriquez and Hunter Murchland, all of whom are freshman. Gutierrez might be the most decorated of the three, coming from John F. Kennedy High School in California. While there, he ran track and cross country, finishing 25th in the Empire League Cross Country Finals last season.
Teatro is excited to see what this crew can accomplish this year.
"I think it's going to be exciting to see what happens," she said. "I think you are going to have a little bit of a surprise out of some of these athletes of how they are going to perform."
Not only are the cross country teams making history on the course, they will also make history at their home course, as the program will host their first invitational ever, the Redhawk Invitational at Freestone Park in Gilbert on Saturday, October 21.
Before the season has even begun, it has been a groundbreaking season for the Redhawks and they hope that it continues all the way into the end of October when they hit the California Pacific Conference Championships.
"These first two or three races, we'll definitely see how we stand," Arthur said. "Ever race following that, we are going to push that placement up further and further until we get to Cal Pac."