Lake Tahoe Community College launches men, women cross-country teams

Sara Jackson / Special to the Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – In February 2023, Matthew Airola, a two-time California Community College Athletic Association cross-country and track and field champion was hired by the Lake Tahoe Community College to coach its new Cross-Country and Long-Distance Track programs. 

“Cross Country and Track has always been a major part of my life.  From a very early age I was thrown into the sport and fell in love instantly.  For me it was the idea of pushing myself to the limit in each and every race that captivates me,” said Airola. 

Following high school, Airola attended American River Community College in Sacramento, where in just two years, he became the California Community College Athletic Association 2011 1500m state runner-up. Airola was part of three CCCAA team state championships (2011 Track & Field, 2011 Cross Country, and 2012 Cross Country).

Coach Matthew Airola formerly raced cross-country for University of Alabama.
Provided / Matthew Airola

He then transferred to the University of Alabama under a full athletic scholarship for Track & Field and Cross Country.  Unfortunately, his senior year was cut short due to rupturing his Achilles tendon at the indoor national championship in 2015. 

It was because of the success of Lake Tahoe Community College’s men and women’s soccer teams in 2014-15, that the school decided to explore the idea of adding a men and women’s Cross-Country teams for the 2023-24 academic year. 

Airola says his hope for the program is to create continued success for each student-athlete that joins the program. His goal involves helping each student-athlete reach beyond their potential on the field of competition, as well as bringing forth a commitment to excellence in all that they do.  Matthew believes that when strong pillars of success are implemented, the results will come. 

“I have no doubt that in the coming years we will have a program fighting for a state championship every year,” said Airola. 

The season started August 31, and when asked what his coaching techniques were, Airola said, “A technique I use when coaching is looking at each athlete as an individual and structuring my training around that.  Each athlete is going to respond differently to the workload in Cross Country running and find the right balance is the key.” 

The team’s first season started August 31.
Provided / Matthew Airola

He added, “I coach every student-athlete individually. It would be easy to create a cookie cutter approach to coaching, but that’s not how I want to coach. I want to find out what drives a student-athlete, what their strengths are and their weaknesses. From there I can individualize practice sessions and racing tactics to ensure the highest level of success.” 

Through coaching each student-athlete as an individual, Airola says he motivates by setting individual and team goals.  He and his athletes set goals as a team, and then work towards those goals as a team.  He says that each practice and race has a purpose and a goal they’re striving towards. 

The men and women will be competing in the California Community College Athletic Association.  Airola’s teams are already off to a great start.  Their next race will be held in Rocklin on September 15.   

From now until October is their regular season.  On October 27, their conference, called the Golden Valley Conference, championship will be held at Butte College.  Following the Golden Valley Conference championships, they have the Northern California Regional Championship on November 3rin Martinez, and the last meet of the year is the CCCAA State Championship in Fresno on November 18. 

Airola said that in the Golden Valley Conference, Butte College is going to be the hardest team to beat this year.  Beyond their conference, there is a long list of highly successful and established programs in the state.  He says he has no doubt that he and his team will be competing with the best of the best in the state.  And because this is their first year competing, it will take some time to fully establish the Lake Tahoe Community College’s Men and Women’s Cross Country Team. 

“When I think about what Cross Country and Track means to me, it’s best summed up as the true extent of what a person is capable of.  When athletes conquer races and push themselves more than they ever thought was imaginable, then it opens their mind to possibilities beyond the field of competition.  Work ethic and commitment go such a long way in the sport, and that can easily be translated into other areas of their life,” said Airola. 

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