BAYFIELD – Bayfield High School cross-country head coach Josh Walton couldn’t help laughing when mentioning the fact that during the fast-approaching track and field season, he’ll again watch Elco Garcia Jr. compete in colors other than Wolverine purple and gold.
But this spring the senior distance specialist won’t even be donning Ignacio colors. He transferred from Ignacio to Durango last fall after a stellar final cross-country season with Bayfield, as Ignacio does not have a boys team.
“It’s going to be a little bit more difficult cheering for red and black this year than it was in the past,” Walton said. “We’ll see him at Durango, but it’ll be alright.”
And even better when, in just a few months, Garcia Jr. will run in blue and gold. He signed his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday inside BHS Gymnasium to run cross-country at Fort Lewis College next fall.
“I’ve been working so hard all the way to this point,” Garcia Jr. said. “My freshman year, I was just trying it out and seeing if it was fun. And I ended up really loving the sport. I feel like I realized after last year’s track and field (season), I felt I’d had a really good (year) and so I just wanted to make sure that once I get to the collegiate level, I’ll be participating.”
Garcia Jr. said that he is interested in getting to run Durango’s trail system, which is a common workout for the Skyhawks.
“Even though I feel I am ‘local,’ I really don’t know that much about Durango,” Garcia Jr. said. “I haven’t run the trails, and I’m just interested in ... learning more about where I’m from.”
Garcia Jr. took fourth at the Class 3A State Cross-Country Championships in Colorado Springs last fall with a time of 16 minutes, 48 seconds.
The son of Elco Garcia, Sr., and Naomi Russell, Garcia Jr. will look to bolster a strong Fort Lewis College squad. The Skyhawks ended the cross-country season with a 13th-place finish at the NCAA Division II South Central Region Championships in Canyon, Texas. The team finished in eighth in 2017 and 10th in 2018 under third-year head coach Joshua Coon.
Garcia Jr. will join 2017 Bayfield graduate Cody Speece, who completed his junior season at the South Central regional as FLC’s No. 2 runner, where he took 53rd. Speece improved upon his sophomore-season status at the meet by more than 50 spots.
“With my visits to the Fort, I ran with (Cody) and caught up with him. Talked about how the program is, and it’s great,” Garcia Jr. said. “Coach Coon, he contacted me. I think he shot me a text, and then after that we just got in contact over the phone, made arrangements to meet, and it went good.”
“I’m super-excited to see two Bayfield (cross-country) alumni next year, as we’re going to be hosting our meet with Fort Lewis,” Walton said. “It’ll be a lot of fun to see two of our own running collegiately, as well as our own team running and the middle school (team) running. (We’re) getting to see athletes that were in this school progress to that next level, and that it’s possible for them to also reach those levels.”
Among those present inside BHS Gymnasium for Garcia Jr.’s NLI signing ceremony was older sister Hilda. She attended and played for Ignacio from 2014-16, and graduated from Durango in 2018. She then played basketball for one season at Otero Junior College in La Junta before transferring to Fort Lewis. She plans on suiting up for the Skyhawks next season after she redshirted this past season.
“I’m actually really excited to go to school with my brother. We had the opportunity to do it in Ignacio but then I transferred to Durango, and now we finally get to go together. It’s going to be awesome,” Hilda said. “And the fact that we get to play at a college level together is going to be crazy. I’ll be there 100% the whole way, and I’m so excited to see how far he goes.”
Having already experienced life as a collegiate student-athlete, Hilda Garcia indicated she didn’t expect her brother to have trouble making the adjustment.
“For him, I would just say time management,” Hilda said when asked what would most benefit her brother at Fort Lewis. “School comes first for a student-athlete – and he knows that – so just crunch down on school; free time should go to your sport. That’s the reality of it, but he knows that. I think he’s ready for this next level.”
While he knows he will have to concentrate on his academics, Garcia Jr. has developed his own training program to prepare for the adjustments of running at the collegiate level.
“I’ve just been focusing on my mileage and running a lot lately,” Garcia Jr. said. “I’ve been making sure to hit at least 35 miles a week. Just running, and actually taking cycling classes.”
He thanked Walton for introducing him to the sport and helping him achieve his goals of running at the next level.
“Coach Walton, he’s the one who introduced me to the sport, helped me love it,” he continued, mentioning a definite possibility of also joining FLC’s track team. “Totally helped me grow as a runner and as a person. I’m just so happy that I’m going to compete in college.”
Walton believes that by the time he leaves Fort Lewis, Garcia Jr. will become one of the Skyhawks’ go-to runners.
“Since his freshman year, it’s been fun coaching him,” Walton said. “He’s had challenges throughout his career, but he’s learned to overcome them and has progressed to where he was first team (All-3A),” Walton said.
“I know the coaches at Fort Lewis, and I think they’re going to get a really good runner, and that he’s going to make them a really good team.”