Sports Writer: Michael O’Neill
Wingate freshman cross-country runner Isaac Mendoza is a bright young man from El Paso, Texas, who developed a curiosity for nature and his surroundings. He also has a competitive passion to give everything he has on the pathway and in the classroom.
Growing up in his hometown, Mendoza enjoyed going on camping trips with his father and being outdoors. Unlike most kids who play video games, he breathed the air around him and played with the children who lived in his neighborhood.
Mendoza’s love for the outdoors led him to swim, collect ants in jars and go on to enjoy shenanigans and adventures with his friends during the summers. He benefited from moving around in El Paso because he made friends with many children who he played with outside.
Mendoza also played many sports throughout his elementary school years, including soccer (five years) and basketball (two years). By the time he was in seventh grade, he did not play any sports because he focused on academics.
While he was sad about missing out on sports his freshman year, Mendoza trained at a gym and ran on his own. He later heard about the enhanced success of his high school cross-country team (Eastwood High School) and decided to accelerate his training. He remembers seeing them on television after winning a 5A district title in 2019, the same time he was a freshman.
“I remember seeing them on the news when the newspaper article came out,” Mendoza said. “Some of my old teammates were on the team too, so I thought that was cool. I thought to myself, ‘I want to do that and win a state championship.”
The following year, he moved to Eastwood, his high school across town in El Paso because that school had developed into an elite cross-country team emphasizing team bonding and academics. Although he was not allowed to be on the varsity team as a sophomore, he was considered one of the top junior varsity runners.
Fast forward to his junior season in the spring of 2021 Mendoza finished first in his first-ever high school cross-country meet. He was surprised with the result and immediately gained confidence in himself and his running mates.
At the same time, Mendoza struggled academically due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which presented him with some barriers to college recruitment. Most colleges didn’t recruit him because his grades didn’t meet their standards, but Wingate became an exceptional fit for him.
Mendoza eventually committed to Wingate after giving it a lot of thought. Part of why he wanted to run for the Bulldogs was because of the hype they brought to the races, which resulted in top-10 rankings last season.
Head coach Pol Domenech and Mendoza stayed in communication and talked about what opportunities Wingate would offer him to run. According to Domenech, Mendoza was passionate about running for the Bulldogs because he knew he wanted to run for a Division-2 school.
After seeing the diversity Wingate has on his visit, Mendoza knew he would be accepted for who he is, considering his athleticism. He also knew the program would offer opportunities for their student-athletes who deserve them.
Once Mendoza arrived, he felt positive vibes from the culture that Domenech is trying to create.
“We saw a lot of potential in him…” Domenech said of Mendoza. “We’re very happy that we were correct, because I watched Isaac in practice for two months now, and I can already tell we were right when we saw the potential there.”
Although Mendoza is not eligible to race yet, he is using his first year as an opportunity for more progress in training and development. He has a positive spirit and looks forward to bonding with his teammates and hopefully running in an 8K (five-mile) race.
Mendoza also wants to help the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs continue to win South Atlantic Conference titles and lead them far into the postseason.
“I would like to be one of the top-10 runners next year, so I can be on the traveling team for nationals and regional race,” Mendoza said. “… I’m focusing on my training, listening to all of the coaches, doing the little things, and running with my teammates at practice.”