NAZ Elite This Week: 2022 slate full of intrigue | Local

Stephanie Bruce will be 38 years old when she competes in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon on Sunday. In addition, just a few days after her birthday on January 14, she will try to do a PR at a distance.

Head Coach Ben Rosario said Bruce, who has been with NAZ Elite from the start, represents a lot about her team and what it stands for as a group of elite runners.

In her final year as a professional runner, Bruce wants to smash races, PRs and post-age ideas about professional running. Your desire to keep improving is still there. It’s something she’s always done.

“That’s what we’re about,” Rosario said, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce walks away with a new personal best on Sunday.

Bruce, who last week announced via social media that 2022 would be her last year of racing due to a congenital heart condition, placed fifth at Saturday’s USATF Cross Country Championships where she clocked a time of 34:50. Their solid performance helped the team keep their momentum.

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At the end of 2021, NAZ Elite started getting away from the races with finishers on the podiums, successful outings and PRs were set.

Rookie Katie Wasserman finished fourth in only her second race at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships with a 6K time of 19:57 in mid-December. Shortly before, Nick Hauger ran his marathon debut in 2:12:59 at the California International Marathon, where former NAZ Elite teammate Rory Linkletter finished second with a personal best of 2:12:52. Also in early December, Lauren Paquette finished fourth in her debut half marathon in 1:09:46 at the USATF Half Marathon Championships.

Just before the turn of the year, NAZ Elite announced some big changes in the roster. Alongside Scott Smith’s retirement, NAZ Elite saw Scott Fauble and Rory Linkletter go in different directions. Sid Vaughn would also not be part of the team in 2022.

“The thing about late December and early January was obviously we had some roster changes, but the thing about that is that it’s good,” Rosario said Wednesday. “Change is good. Energy, you need new energy, new blood, new years. And when Katie got off to such a good start as a rookie and now Alex Masai comes in and he’s training great with Matt Baxter and then something like what happened with Steph comes along and everyone’s behind it.”

And everyone feels the urge to race. It’s one of the reasons Rosario is looking forward to further launching the schedule in early 2022.

Baxter will be at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona 5K on Saturday. Although bigger races and opportunities await him in the not too distant future, he will be running on Saturday with the motivation to try and break the New Zealand 5km road record of 14:13. Later this month and then in February and March, Baxter will really start chasing down some PRs.

“He would like to do the 3K on track, the 5K on track, the 10K on track PR. He’s ready to capitalize on the work he’s done in the last few months because he’s been healthy and he’s done a lot of work,” Rosario said.

Meanwhile, Alice Wright will make her long-awaited marathon debut at Sunday’s Houston Marathon.

Wright was due to make her long-distance debut in Athens in mid-November, but a health issue ultimately kept her from racing. However, she’s been training well since then and is in a good position as she approaches the race, Rosario said.

“You could argue that she’s more prepared now than she was then, just because of extra time,” Rosario added.

Julia Griffey will be competing in the Houston half marathon on Sunday as she tries to get her year off to a good start early in her fitness segment.

By the end of January, Baxter will be joined by rookie Masai, who will make his 3K track debut at the John Thomas Terrier Classic in Boston.

“He was great,” Rosario said of Masai, who signed with NAZ Elite in fall 2021. “He came (to Flagstaff) at the end of December. At every single practice he comes and performs at a high level, but he’s having fun. I think the athletes like being around him and like his attitude. I think we’re already at the point where they look forward to seeing him race because they know how fit he is.”

Despite all the intrigue surrounding the start of 2022, Rosario is simply enjoying the fact that his athletes are expected to compete extensively.

“We are healthy and fit, we want to use that. We want to get out there and race and we want to run really well and just get everything off to a good start. It looks like we’re going to do that because we’ve got the right staff, we’ve got the right races on the schedule tailored for those people,” Rosario said. “We think we’ll be going fast times and see quick performances.”

Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.

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