BRANDON – Robert Maestas has been the head cross country coach at Brandon High since 2003. In that time he has seen hundreds of runners come and go. Last year, he finally had a runner come out that he had been counting on since 2003 – assistant coach Tommy Ochoa’s daughter Nina.
“I counted on that day (she would be in high school),” Maestas said. “It seemed like every year I asked ‘What grade is she in now?’”
There was always reason to believe Nina would be a great runner, after all, it’s in the family genes. Tommy was an accomplished road racer himself, winning multiple races and having a personal best of under 15 minutes for the 5K. But when it comes to coaching Nina, Tommy tries to keep everything in perspective.
“I know they are all still kids. I’m always afraid I’m going to push them too hard,” Tommy said. “I expect more from her than any other runner.”
“It’s tougher for me to get onto her. I’m like her second dad, I see (Tommy and Nina) so much,” Maestas said.
Even though she ran well in middle school, Nina admits she was nervous heading into her first race in high school.
“I was scared I wasn’t going to do well,” Nina said. “I thought I was going to trip.”
She promptly put any doubts to rest. As a freshman last year, Nina established herself as one of the top runners in Hillsborough County. She was 13th at the Hillsborough County championships and went on to lead Brandon to its second straight district title by individually winning the district title.
Nina also had a successful track and field campaign that saw her place 15th in the 1600 meter run at the county meet and 13th in the 3200 meter run at the regional meet. Compared to middle school track, where the longest event is 800 meters, the longer events in high school seem to suit Nina just fine.
“I like it better (compared to middle school) because it was longer,” Nina said.
Heading into her sophomore year will present new challenges. Brandon moves into a new and tougher district that will feature King and Robinson. To prepare, Nina has been upping her weekly mileage to about 25 to 30 miles a week and her long run is up to 8 miles.
Even though last year almost happened too easily at times for Nina, Maestas and the Ochoa appear ready for the challenge.
“It’s about getting faster every year,” Maestas said. “I don’t think she is overconfident.”
“She was asking about who was in the district,” Tommy said. “She knows she has to work.”
As for Nina, she feels the hard road work over the summer is going to pay off.
“I think it’s going to be tougher,” Nina said. “I just need to not be scared to be in the front and know I can stay with them.”