Ask W.F West High School cross country coach Amber Cruzan who the best runner on the Bearcats boys’ team is this year and she’ll tell you Francisco Lima. Motivated by missing the 2A state meet last year by the slimmest of margins, Lima dedicated much of this past summer to improving himself physically for his upcoming junior campaign.
Mornings consisted of long runs and when he wasn’t scampering over trails and up hills, he could be found playing soccer. Point being – he was constantly moving. There were very few times you’d find him standing still during the summer months.
Lima has already seen improvement this season as his running times have dropped significantly. Cruzan sites two reasons for that. “He’s improved his stamina,” Cruzan said. “He’s becoming physically stronger.”
Of course, both of these have paid huge dividends. However, Cruzan will say there’s a bigger factor at work in Lima’s upward trend. “He is also starting to believe in himself,” Cruzan said.
As Lima’s confidence rises, his times are dropping, leading one to believe he will accomplish his goal of advancing to the state meet this year.
“Just being around this team has helped too,” said Lima about his new mindset. “It feels like a family here. We get so much support from our teammates and coaches. It makes me push myself.”
Lima entered W.F. West as a freshman having little to no idea what exactly cross country was, believing it was simply track during the fall. He found out early on as a freshman just how untrue that was. “It is a lot different than track,” Lima said. “You have to be smart. You just can’t go out there and be fast.”
Which is something Lima was prone to doing back then.
He learned his lesson following several failed attempts at wiring the race, all 5,000 meters of it. He would zip to the front, try to take a lead, only to run out of gas before the race had even hit the midway point.
“That happened to me a lot of times as a freshman,” Lima said. “It took me a while to understand things. You really don’t know how [cross country] is like in middle school, and when I came in [as a freshman] I was scared of running against the upperclassmen. That was my mentality.”
Now with two years of cross country experience to his credit, Lima is eyeing big things in 2018.
“I had Francisco as a middle schooler in class. He didn’t have a lot of confidence at all during those early years,” Cruzan said. “So, it’s really nice to see him mature into a responsible hardworking young guy.”
The summer work is appearing to pay off as Lima has already showed drastic improvement from last year. He opened the season at the Capital Invite, a 2.23-mile race which has participants compete against members of their own class as opposed to the longer all-class races the remainder of the season is comprised of.
Running against some of the state’s top juniors, Lima finished 19th overall, crossing the wire in 12 minutes, 45.6 seconds. His running time was more than a minute faster than what he did over the same course as a sophomore.
After notching his first ever first-place victory during W.F. West’s 2A Evergreen Conference meet against rival Centralia, Lima ran in the 20th annual Fort Steilacoom Invitational, one of the state’s top early-season events at 5,000 meters.
Lima was 30th overall, covering the distance in 17:22.5. By comparison, he finished 85th at the Fort Steilacoom Invite last year and his final running time was less than 2 seconds off his time at last year’s 2A District IV championships – a meet where he finished 29th overall, a mere three spots and 6 seconds away from earning a place at the state meet.
“Getting that close [to state last year] motivates me to keep improving,” said Lima, who finished sixth at last year’s 2A Evergreen Conference championships, one of only two non-seniors to place in the top eight. “I’m always trying to be better than I was in my last race. I want to do better than I did last year.”
Should Lima qualify for the 2A state meet in Pasco, he will be the first Bearcat since J.P. Guyer in 2015 to accomplish the feat.
“Francisco is a quiet hard worker. He is very reserved in emotion and would rather have someone else in the spotlight,” Cruzan said. “He gets embarrassed a bit when applauded for his accomplishments. He always seems so surprised when he has a great race.”
If that’s the case, based on the way things are starting, expect Lima to be in amazement the entire season.