When Kendra Knittel and Ahmed Mohamed line up at the start of the Los Mezquites Invitational on Saturday morning, it will be the first time either of them has taken on the rocky three-mile Kennedy Park course.
Not because they're freshmen, but because they're both in their first year of cross country at Rincon/University.
Knittel, a senior, and Mohamed, a junior, have both emerged as two of the top runners in the area.
"We lost Emily Page, who won last year at Mezquites with a big lead, and it's very likely Kendra could win this year," coach John Radspinner said.
"And then Ahmed, it's like he just stepped in for Noah Kenyawani. I wish we could have had them both at the same time."
The Star recently sat down with Knittel and Mohamed to take a look at their journeys to becoming distance runners:
Where they were
• Knittel: Since her freshman year, she's been one of the top sprinters in Southern Arizona. She's also played soccer, both school and club. Aside from some scheduling conflicts, Knittel said she'd thought about going out for cross country, but she thought distance running might be too tough and take up a lot of time.
• Mohamed: The only thing he wanted to do once he got to high school was play soccer, so he did. Mohammed tried out his freshman year, made the JV team, and then went up to varsity the year after that. He said cross country coaches asked him if he wanted to join the team, but he wasn't even thinking about running.
Why they joined the team
• Knittel: It's her senior year, and she said cross country gives her a good chance to stay in shape over the summer and fall leading into track. Plus, some of her friends from track talked her into joining. Radspinner also had been trying to convince her to come out since her freshman year.
• Mohamed: In the spring of his sophomore year, Mohamed decided to come out for track. Then, when he was a member of the 3,200-meter relay team that broke the school record and placed fourth at state, he became more interested and motivated to run. After that he decided to do cross country to train for his next track season. But now it's more than that.
What they've done so far
• Knittel: After winning the senior race at the Old Pueblo Invitational she emerged as Rincon's top girls runner and took over where Page left off. Knittel has taken on a leadership role with the team but said it's strange because she does not know too much about distance running.
• Mohamed: He replaced Kenyawani who ran alongside Division I state runner-up and two-time Mezquites winner Ryan Silva who is now a senior. Mohamed had the fastest overall time at the Old Pueblo Invitational.
How they're going to run Kennedy
• Knittel: "I'm just going to try to stay with the top people and let them pull me along. After I get a feel for it, in the first mile or so, I'll see what I can do."
• Mohamed: "Run with the front pack and, of course, Ryan. He's won there so many times and knows every part of the course."
If you go
• What: 22nd annual Los Mezquites Invitational
• Who: 19 teams from across the state
• When: Saturday, 8:30 a.m.
• Where: Kennedy Park