Herrera Leads Elkets To Trophy At State
By George Morse
Pojoaque Valley High School junior Megan Herrera has been opening eyes ever since she surprised everyone by taking second place at the 2012 State cross country meet competing in Class 3A for the Elkettes. Just an eighth-grader, the precocious Herrera had started the season still deciding whether she wanted to compete on the cross country team or continue to play volleyball.
“I would go to volleyball practice, leave early and put in some miles running the hills with the cross country team,” she said.
After crossing the line in first place in a preseason scrimmage at Pojoaque, it wasn’t long before Herrera made her choice between the two sports.
“I got tired of volleyball,” Herrera said. “It didn’t feel right for me anymore.”
Herrera steadily improved throughout the season, reaching her peak at state where she passed Taos’ Haley Rach at the finish line in a heated duel for second place.
“I wasn’t expecting to do that well,” she said. “After that, I tried harder and harder to get close. It really pushed me.” Herrera followed her auspicious start with another second-place finish at state in 2013. In 2014, however, she was fighting an injury and running in pain. She slipped to ninth place, still good enough to earn All-State honors for the third straight year, but short of the goals she had set for herself.
“It motivated me to train harder,’ Herrera said. “Not to worry about the pain.”
Since her eighth-grade season, Herrera has been a leader that her team has always looked up to. She’s the one who everyone else on the team tries to keep up to.
“If I’m up there, I know I have a target on my back,” Herrera said. “They know they have to get up there with me. It motivates me. I’m going to be there for them.”
Despite Herrera’s individual success, the Elkettes hadn’t been able to take home a team trophy by finishing among the top three teams at the state cross country meet until this season.
In spite of a slow start, the Elkettes steadily improved throughout the season. The addition of junior Jenae Bobchak midway through the season strengthened the team. Bobchak consistently stayed on Herrera’s heels, giving the Elkettes two strong runners.
“It was good there was another teammate who could stick up there with me,” Herrera said. ‘It was a two-way benefit for her and the team.”
With Herrera and Bobchak leading the way, the Elkettes finished in third place at the 2015 Class 4Astate cross country meet. Herrera took fourth place and Bobchak was right behind her in fifth place.
“Getting that third-place trophy with all the girls standing by my side was a great experience,” Herrera said. “Not only did I improve, the whole team improved.
The Elkettes scored 65 points to second-place Taos’ 60 points. Shiprock High School had 58 points to take first place.
“We were just seven points away from first place,” Herrera said. “Knowing that, we know if we train harder, we can take first next year.”
Pojoaque had no seniors on this year’s team. All of their runners, including Herrera and Bobchak, will be returning next season.
The daughter of Marcos and Beveley Herrera, Megan Herrera had an older brother, Matthew Herrera. He was a member of Pojoaque’s 2012 boys cross country team that won the state championship. He also was the leading scorer on Pojoaque’s 2013 boys basketball team.
“He’s been there and always given me a lot of support,” Megan Herrera said. “He did sports and he’s been through it all.”
It has been challenging keeping up with her children, but Beverley Herrera uses her strong faith to help her manage her responsibilities.
“God blessed me with them,” she said. “I see what they put their bodies through, working hard running hills. I’m constantly keeping her healthy. I encourage and motivate them.”
Marcos Herrera had to keep it in perspective.
“I’m not her coach, I’m the screaming parent on the sidelines,” he said. “I was blessed with these two kids that can play. What can you tell her (Megan). She goes out there and does what she does.”
Megan Herrera acknowledges the support of her parents.
“They’ve been there through it all,” she said. “They’re my two biggest supporters and two biggest fans. It’s been a huge gift for me. I couldn’t ask for more.”
She also shares their strong faith.
“It helps a lot knowing I have God on my side,” she said.
Throughout her cross country career at Pojoaque, Herrera has been coached by Alan Lockridge, who has taken Pojoaque to three girls state cross country championships and five boys state championships. A veteran of over 30 years, he knows a good athlete when he sees one.
“This year she matured as an athlete and I really appreciated her,”Lockridge said. “She led the team to a trophy.”
While Herrera has opened eyes with her performances at the state cross country meets, her eyes were opened Nov. 21 when she competed at Nike Cross Nationals Southwest Regional meet in Casa Grande, AZ. Against a field of the top runners from New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado, Herrera finished well back in the pack and not near the front as she was accustomed to. She finished 85th in the small schools girls race among 150 runners.
It was a sobering experience for Marcos Herrera as well.
“I was like ‘Wow,’” he said. “New Mexico is a small drop in a very big bucket.”
It was motivation for Megan Herrera.
“I got to see many different runners and each of them train in their own way,’ she said. ”It showed me how much harder I have to work. I need to run at a faster pace to move higher up.”
Megan Herrera wants to run at the next level.
“She’s capable of it,” Coach Lockridge said.
It’s been a goal that Herrera has had ever since she caught people’s attention at her first state cross country meet.
“Ever since I was runnerup at state,” she said. “I know I can make it to the next level if I continue training and fighting for everything.”