A quiet powerhouse: De Anza Cross-Country finishes the season with both teams ranked in top 10


Nick Mattis

Evan Franco (right) and Mannat Gill (left) receiving their All-American performances.

Cameron Oleary, Reporter

Cross country is a sport that does not get covered a lot but deserves to be talked about as it is a grueling sport that only some of the best athletes can compete in. It is a long distance running sport where the men run four mile races and the women run a 5k which is about 3.1 miles.

Mannat Gill running ahead of the competition at the state championship. (Dean Lofgren )

After a tough start that saw the men’s team start the season without a full team and the women’s team even having a couple of runners drop out, De Anza College’s cross country team ended up having one of their most successful seasons in school history.

The men’s team finished the season ranked tenth in California and individually Evan Franco, 19, mathematics major, became the first All-American on the men’s team under coach Nick Mattis.

The women’s team finished their year ranked fifth in California and third in the north region making it the highest rank under Mattis. Mannat Gill, 19, computer science major, was also named an All-American, making her the third woman in the program ever to accomplish that feat.

Coach Mattis has been coaching cross country and track and field at De Anza for the past 14 years. He said that he wants people to be able to see how special of a team they have on-campus.

“This is one of the most successful and best sports programs we have and I don’t think anybody knows about that much,” Mattis said. “They can’t follow us because we don’t get to have any home cross country meets.” 

Like the rest of the sports at De Anza, the season did not start how coach Mattis would have liked because of the effects of the pandemic. In addition to losing a year’s worth of competition, he also mentioned how they were shut down again briefly over the summer due to the sudden rollout of the vaccine mandate which has made it hard to find the time to train.

Mattis tabbed Evan Franco as the leader of the men’s cross country team and he is in his second and final year at De Anza. Franco said that he has been happy with how the year has gone but admitted that it was not always the most graceful.

“It was definitely a mental thing because a lot of times you’re alone and didn’t know what the schedule was when you were going to get back to racing. So you’re running without a purpose or a goal for over a year,” Franco said.

Unlike other community colleges, the cross country teams actually do not have a home course to host home meets of their own. This makes Mattis have to think outside of the box to find somewhere for the team to train locally.

Mattis made a deal with Rancho San Antonio County Park, located in Cupertino, to allow the teams to train there at hours when the park is quiet. The park has a good amount of different terrain from hills, rocky areas and flat ground to be able to prepare for any course in their circuit.

This will be the fourth time in his 14 years that Mattis will have a women’s team ranked in the top ten in the state and will be looking to add another All-American girl to the two that he has coached before.

Mannat Gill (right) going neck and neck with the competition at the end of the state championship. (Dean Lofgren)

All-American is achieved by placing in the top 40 runners for your class over the entire year and are nominated by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

Mannat Gill led the women’s team and said that coach Mattis’s experience with the courses gives them a little advantage.

“He’s always really prepared,” Gill said. “We’ll often go through the entire course the day before the race and he will walk the entire course with us and give us a heads up on what to be prepared for.” 

Despite all of their success, Mattis emphasized that emerging from the pandemic has been difficult, but the group he had around him made it easier to push past the adversity they faced.

“This year I had to coach solo when I usually have one to two assistant coaches helping out, so it was hard,” Mattis said. “But this has been a tight group that really supports each other and it’s a nice little family that I think has helped everyone.”