Juan Segundo knew it would be different this year.
The Livingston senior didn't have his running partner in Nuno Espadinha, who graduated last spring.
Espadinha had also been a team leader.
Segundo knew he had to step into a new role.
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"It was a lot different," Segundo said. "Last year, I had my friend Nuno to run with. This year, I was running by myself.
"I had to put more effort into it. We had a new team and I had to push everyone."
The new responsibilities weren't a problem.
Segundo finished his cross country career at Livingston with his best season yet.
He went undefeated on his way to a Western Athletic Conference championship.
He finished fourth at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championships, which earned him a second straight trip to the state meet.
He then finished with a time of 16:21 at state, which trimmed 19 seconds off his time from the previous year.
Segundo is the Sun-Star Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.
"This year he was our No. 1 guy and he did the job," Livingston coach Dean Andressen said.
"He worked very hard. He's a very tough competitor.
"Something I didn't know ahead of time was he became the team leader. He took a team that was relatively green under his wing and whipped them into shape.
"He's as responsible as anybody for us winning a third straight championship."
It was Segundo's cousin, Jose Arevalo, who turned him on to running.
"I used to live with him and one day he showed me all his medals," Segundo said. "That's when I said, 'I'm going to run.' "
Segundo's work ethic and determination was a perfect fit for cross country.
"Cross country isn't just a physical sport," Andressen said. "You've got to have the mental toughness. You have to be able to push yourself. You're going to get tired."
With Espadinha gone, Segundo took over a young team.
He pushed them in workouts. He showed his teammates what it takes to get better.
"I can give them the workout, but once they leave the high school they're on their own," Andressen said.
Segundo balanced cross country with his heavy workload at school.
He even had to miss practices here and there to study for big tests.
"As competitive as he is, he had to miss some practices to study for a test," Andressen said. "I hated to see him miss practice, but I respected him for it."
On the days he did miss practice, Segundo would come by Andressen's room to ask about the workout scheduled for that day.
He would complete the workout at home by himself.
"It was tough," Segundo said. "I would go to my tutorial. Then I would practice at night at home and then do my homework."
The performances he turned in at the end of the year made all the work well worth it.
"He felt good about his time and that made me feel good," Andressen said. "As a coach, you want your kids to finish their season or career feeling good about how they finished and their accomplishments and he did."