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Cross Country Preview: Flores Takes the Helm

By Brandon Petersen , 07/30/20, 2:00PM PDT

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When the Westcliff University Cross Country team finally gets to lace up its cleats for competition in the spring of 2021, the Warriors will have a new head coach at the helm.

If you’re not familiar with the name Mario Flores yet, you may not be that tuned into the running scene in Southern California.

For the Southland running community and those who follow running sports closely, Flores might be a little more familiar

Originally a soccer player, Flores fell in love with Cross Country in high school, and while attending college at Cal Poly Pomona, accepted a coaching job at Jordan High in Los Angeles, a post he still credits as being one of the most influential of his life.

Michael Dunne, a world champion cyclist and father of Alex Dunne, the California Division I state champion in 2009, began mentoring Flores at that point, and together they formed a club team which led Flores to coaching several national qualifiers and All Americans.

From there, Flores headed back to his alma mater, San Clemente High, and grew the team from 35 athletes to over 120, winning league crowns and qualifying for CIF prelims for the first time in over a decade.

Flores also oversaw the dismantling of school record after school record, and at 22-years-old in 2013, he was the youngest coach accepted to the prestigious USA Track & Field Emerging Elite Coaches Camp.

“The training camp is reserved for the top coaches in the country who have proven their abilities to develop athletes in their respective events,” Flores said.

Flores flourished at San Clemente, but retired from coaching in 2017 to focus on his career and get married.

“After a season of not coaching, I knew that I needed to get back to it,” he said. “But due to my schedule, I was unable to find a coaching position that worked.”

Enter Westcliff University.

Dean of Athletics Shawn Harris jumped at the opportunity to bring such a talented coach on staff and was willing to work around Flores’ work schedule.

As an assistant, Flores helped set the foundation of Westcliff distance running. Now, taking over as the new head coach in 2020, he has eyes on transforming the program the same way he did at San Clemente.

“We will be a national championship qualifier-caliber team,” Flores said. “The goal is to make the trip to the National Championships a benchmark, and to perform progressively better at nationals year after year.”

Flores says the first step is to have fun and build a family culture within the program.

Right now, the team is comprised mostly of high level 800M runners, and Flores says he’s excited to take their speed advantage and complement it with endurance training, to have his athletes performing at their peak levels.

“Once the training is underway and we get synced up, I would not be surprised if the women’s team places in the Top 3 at conference,” he said.

One of the reasons Flores is so excited about the women’s side is newcomer to the program, Gloria Flores, who has competed in a national championship race at the Division II level.

“It’s been four years since Gloria has competed,” Flores said. “I’m excited to see the wealth of knowledge she brings to the team, and to see her compete at the highest level once again.”

Coach Flores is thrilled that Gloria has a background in the 800M and will be able to relate that experience to younger runners in the program with the same Track & Field background.

“On the women’s side, we have a group of women who have all run under 2:30 in the 800,” Flores said. “I am excited to compete in Cross Country with that group of speedsters.

“No one is sprinting past these women at the end of a race.”

A newcomer to look for on the men’s side will be Kelvin Kiptoo, who comes to Westcliff by way of Kenya and who Flores says will be a force to be reckoned with on the national level.

“Kelvin has a tremendous amount of endurance,” Flores said. “After a season or two of fine-tuning his speed, and with the help of his speedster 800M teammates, I have no doubt that Kelvin has the potential to become a national champion.

“By the time he graduates, I would love to see Kelvin break the NAIA record for fastest Cross Country time.”

Flores says his athletes have remained healthy and safe during the COVID pandemic, and although conditions aren’t ideal, they are still training and preparing for the upcoming season, whenever it may begin.

“Although our training hasn’t been optimal, we will be ready,” he said.

To contact Brandon Petersen, e-mail brandonpetersen@westcliff.edu.