Centennial senior Antonio Camacho-Bucks entered this cross country season with a lasting image in his mind.
That vivid picture traces back to last year’s Northeast Regional at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, New York, where he finished 13th and watched the top 10 finishers who advanced to nationals gather in a tent.
Using that as motivation, Camacho-Bucks improved from last year’s race, finishing fourth at the same course on Nov. 26 in 15 minutes, 33.2 seconds, advancing to the Champs Sports Cross Country Championships National Finals in San Diego on Dec. 10.
Camacho-Bucks becomes just the second male Howard County runner to qualify for the event and first since 1984.
“I was really excited and happy to be in the top 10,” Camacho-Bucks said. “I was like, ‘Wow you made it.’ I enjoyed it for a bit and I was just thinking about nationals and how there’s still more room to grow.”
His internal drive was nothing new and began early in his high school career. After he ran a 4:21 indoor mile his freshman season, the physical talent was evident. He bolstered that with a mental approach focused on being the best he can be.
“After that point, we said, ‘What does it look like if you steadily trained for the next two or three years, let’s walk down that ladder in our minds of how good we can be,’” Centennial cross country coach Christopher Graff said. “That end result was, let’s be at national meets, let’s be in that front group competing for national titles and giving ourselves the opportunity to race against the best people in the country.”
That internal motivation reached new heights this season.
“I saw that motivation in him every day,” Graff said. “It was an open conversation of him getting from outside the top 10 to inside. It was something that came up frequently in our conversation of, ‘We’re working hard this week, we’re getting in that top 10, just to keep that always in front of us.’
“It was always on his mind. When you think about the path of great athletes achieving great things, there’s some big loss, some big splinter in their mind that keeps them motivated, hungry and pushing forward. For him in the last year coming just a few seconds away from making nationals was certainly the splinter his mind that was ever-present. For me, I just need to push him on that.”
Camacho-Bucks was familiar with the regional course. Having run in last year’s event and an invitational there earlier in the season, he was able to get a better feel for the terrain in his preparation.
“I was pretty confident that I would be able to get one of the top 10 spots just in the fact that I just really wanted to be in that top 10 and I was in pretty good shape this year,” Camacho-Bucks said. “So, I didn’t see a reason that I couldn’t be in the top 10.”
Camacho-Bucks’ postseason didn’t go the way he’d hoped. He was unable to race at the Howard County championships due to illness and finished fifth in Class 3A at states, unfamiliar territory for the defending state champion.
Slowly working his way back to full form, Camacho-Bucks saved his best performance for the biggest stage of his season.
“On the one hand, he needed to rally a little bit emotionally and mentally,” Graff said. “On the other hand, it was just about getting his body right. Once he was just a little bit healthier and really locked in, he can do some special things on a cross country course. Eight days before the regional race, he looked like himself for the first time since Manhattan College the month before and I knew we were pretty ready to go.”
Now, Camacho-Bucks has the opportunity he’s always coveted, competing against the top 10 runners from the South, Midwest and West Regional meets.
“Just watching some videos online of the course and looking at maps,” Camacho-Bucks said of what excites him. “I’ll be there a couple days before the race and they’ll let us run on the course, so that will definitely help.”