By Tom Knauer
CLAIRE C. LAURENCE/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA freshman runner Mohamed Trafeh, left, overcame a great deal of adversity to reach his current position, one of the Wildcats' top distance runners. Trafeh's abilities have helped teammate Chris Ogle, right, become one of the UA squad's most consistent contributors this season.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 2, 2004
Cross Country's Mohamed Trafeh and Chris Ogle run to a different beat
Mohamed Trafeh stands near the office door of UA cross country head coach James Li, his back slightly hunched and covered by an Arizona windbreaker.
He returns a handshake with a smile and a quick embrace and heads through a McKale Center hallway. He turns and stops before a ramp.
"Five minutes," Li says, as he locks his office and walks to the exit.
Trafeh slides a hand over a nearby rail. On the court below, the men's basketball team runs through a scrimmage. Trafeh smiles again. The scene is not new to him, just relieving.
As one of the top high school runners in the nation in 2004, Trafeh ended his senior season at Duarte High School in Duarte, Calif., with a solid résumé. A trip to Tucson would soon follow, to acquaint himself with new teammates and a new challenge.
Different challenges would emerge.
Born and raised in Morocco, Trafeh enrolled in English as a Second Language courses at Duarte. As he prepared for his freshman year at Arizona, he learned that the NCAA did not include those classes on its list of acceptable English equivalents. Trafeh, who had already arrived on campus, did not know if or when he would be allowed to compete.
"I had a hard start," he says. "I didn't go to school for the first three weeks, so I was behind. I had to look for a room, and then (start) adjusting and making up all the school work. I lost my focus."
Two weeks into the semester, Li says, the matter was straightened out, and Trafeh was cleared for the upcoming season. Still, the damage had been done.
"It was difficult for me to adjust," Trafeh says. "I didn't expect much out of my body, physically or mentally."
"You have a lot of schoolwork, a lot of things to worry about, and when you have a lot of distractions, you can't focus," he says.
Trafeh's mental wear showed in early September at the Dave Murray Invitational, Arizona's first meet of the season. Trafeh finished 11th overall in the 6,300-meter run, third among Wildcats behind sophomore Robert Cheseret (first overall) and junior Josh Ludwig (fifth). Though his practice time was limited before the event, Trafeh recalls the disappointment that wracked his first weeks with the team.
"I would just go (to practice) and run," he says. "I didn't really look forward or get excited."
Vengeance arrived eight days later at the Aztec Invitational in San Diego.
With Cheseret and Ludwig both absent, Trafeh finished fourth overall in the 8,000-meter run with a time of 25:47. Spurred by Trafeh and the performances of four other young runners - including redshirt freshman Chris Ogle, who ended 13th - Arizona finished second at the event.
An unlikely partner
Trafeh is walking toward McKale's side exit. You ask him about Ogle, a heralded runner from Tucson's Mountain View High School and an Arizona recruit in 2003.
You ask about the odd frequency of Ogle's finishes as compared to his own. Trafeh finished 47th at the Griak Invitational, Ogle 76th, and the two were the second and third Wildcats, respectively, to break the ribbon. At the ASU Invitational two weeks later, Trafeh put up another fourth-place finish as Ogle ended 10th, and they finished one-two among their teammates.
"We have a guy who should be up there with me," Trafeh says, referring to Ludwig, "but he's sick right now."
A runner walks from the locker room, hands set on his hips. At 6-foot-2, Ogle is a larger, more seasoned compliment to the slight Trafeh, who excuses himself and goes outside. After brief introductions, Ogle comments on his hopes for the season.
"Everybody right now is just improving, and I think everybody is going to get faster as the year progresses," Ogle says. "So I just want to stick with everybody."
Trafeh, Ogle says, has helped him keep pace throughout the year.
"I definitely keep Mohamed in my sights for the most part and try to get with him," he says.
Ogle hasn't been a headliner for Arizona this year, but he's been cast in a familiar role. Ogle shared statewide star status his senior year with current Arizona sophomore Eric Chavez, who hails from Rio Rico. Having a year to observe helped Ogle prepare for an increased workload and greater expectations.
"Second year, it's just been a lot different," he says, "because I'm competing and I have to think about my training a little bit more."
Looking back, Li is glad in the decision to hold Ogle back a season.
"It's great that he does what he's been doing," he says. "The kid is pretty good."
Any recent difficulties had by Trafeh were temporarily abated at the Pre-NCAA Invitational on Oct. 16. With Cheseret back and absorbing most of the attention, Trafeh finished second among Wildcats and 56th overall in the 8,000-meter run. Though the finish would seem underwhelming, Trafeh insists that now, as he finally adjusts to life as an Arizona student-athlete, his results will continue to improve.
"This year, I gave up," Trafeh says. "Now, I got my confidence back. I know that if I do good, my team will do good. That's what everybody's doing. If you do good individually, the team will do good."
Ogle, who finished 153rd at the Pre-NCAA, sixth among his teammates, has a more specific goal in mind.
"I'd say we're on the bubble for nationals," he says.
Li, too, is confident in the impact his new runners could have on the rest of the schedule.
"I would like to see them help the team to make it to nationals," he says. "It won't be easy, but I still think we can do it. Those two, being our new freshman class, they can definitely help to get that done."