Nearly two years after the University of Hawaii at Hilo athletic department dealt Jaime Guerpo severe budget cuts which caused the school to eliminate his men’s cross-country program, the veteran coach is challenged to keep the women’s program alive.
All scholarships were initially eliminated, and fundraising for travel expenses has been commonplace.
Such was the case this past Saturday when Guerpo’s women’s team set out to host a 5K fundraiser on the grounds of the Naniloa Golf Course and opened it to the public in an attempt to raise additional revenue in his barebones women’s program.
“We have roughly $15,000 to cover our seven off-island trips and some additional funds for miscellaneous items such as warmup uniforms,” Guerpo said.
Guerpo also has the luxury of offering a couple of scholarships, something that hasn’t happened in the past few years.
“This year we have money for scholarships to maybe get two really good athletes and four in-between athletes,” Guerpo said.
Through his efforts to keep the women’s program together, Guerpo has managed to keep a young team intact.
The eldest on the squad is Justina Wood, a senior from Hawaii Prep.
The roster includes two sophomores, Hilo High’s Nadia Ramirez and Jordan Bledsoe from Lincoln, Neb. The freshmen are Keri Fujiwara from Waipahu, who was fifth in the state during the finals of the 3K, and Britni Napihaa from Kamehameha-Hawaii, who made the state qualifier in the 800-meter run.
“Britni came out for track in her junior year and ended up running in the high 2:40s,” said Joel Truesdell, her former high school coach. “I believe she should continue to improve under Coach Jaime. She is extremely coachable and should take a couple of minutes off her best high school time and continue to improve in the coming years.”
“Right now I am carrying six on the team, but I would like to carry seven,” Guerpo said. “We just acquired Jen Lozano, a senior, and she just joined the team.
“Nadia was sick for (Saturday’s) race, and we wanted to keep her away from her teammates as not to spread anything around.”
Saturday’s 5K served as a time trial under race conditions for his squad.
Fujiwara took the top Vulcan time while wearing bright pink shoes.
“I know our girls can run faster,” a humble Fujiwara said. “I don’t think the color of the shoes had anything to do with it.”
The Lady Vuls did not wear bib numbers, so there weren’t official times for them, but Fujiwara was first on the team, followed by Bledsoe, Wood, Lozano and Napihaa, according to Guerpo.
Hilo High’s Carmen Garson Shumway was the top female finisher in a time of 21 minutes, 47 seconds.
“It was just a fun race for us girls,” Garson Shumway said. “I ran together with Mehana (Sabado-Halpern) the entire way.”
Viking teammate Sabado-Halpern was close behind Garson Shumway to make it a 1-2 overall finish for the prep stars.
Volcano’s Billy “The Ghost” Barnett won the race in 17:07.