Side by side

Kristina Vasquez (left), Dayna Casillas (middle) and Michelle Duarte will look to lead the Lady Baler cross country team this season.

The San Benito girls cross country team will look to offset its
losses by running competitively, collectively

During a recent mile run, the San Benito High girls cross country team recorded split times that were all within two seconds of one another.

In a sport where a team is only as good as the last runner to cross the finish line, San Benito’s two-second differential could be key to its overall success. How it will convert to a longer 3K cross country course remains to be seen, but consistent times separated by mere seconds could very well be the antidote to toppling defending league champion Gilroy, as well as making up the difference left by the departed Courtney Allen.

“We can’t replace her,” San Benito girls cross country coach Josh Morales said of Allen, a two-time individual state qualifier who is currently competing at UNLV. “But the way you can make up for Courtney is by having four or five girls within 10 seconds of each other.

“If we have a bunch of girls with consistent times, within 10 seconds of each other, we’ll be all right. That’s how good teams win.”

Supplanting Gilroy will take a team effort, though. The Mustangs remain deep, despite losing its top runner, Kathleen Miller. San Benito narrowly finished runner-up to Gilroy at last year’s Tri-County Athletic League Championships, 31-44, and although Morales is still waiting on a few key runners to come out for the team, the Mustangs remain the team to beat in the TCAL.

“We have to try hard. Right now, we need to beat Gilroy,” said senior Michelle Duarte, who finished 14th at the TCAL Championships last season with a 21:18. “It’s our last year, and we need to beat Gilroy and go farther, go to CCS and go to state.”

Duarte is one of just three seniors listed on the cross country roster, along with Natalie Macias and Kristina Vasquez, who had a strong sophomore campaign but suffered shin splints during her junior season.

“I think our team looks really good right now,” Vasquez said. “We have a young team this year, but they’re stepping it up.”

Along with Duarte and Vasquez, though, San Benito returns juniors Grace Tobias (21:01) and Dayna Casillas (21:10), who finished in 12th and 13th place, respectively, at last season’s TCAL finale. Otherwise, as many as 10 freshmen are included on the roster, a “good crop” of talent, Morales said, including Vanessa Estrada, Kaitlin Dukelow, Cynthia Trujillo and Megan Pape.

With perhaps a new harrier leading the team each week – and right now, four or five girls fighting for a few remaining varsity spots – Morales is hoping to keep competition high throughout the season, or at least high enough to take down Gilroy at the end of the season.

The Lady Balers will officially open its 2009 campaign at the Early Bird Invitational on Sept. 12 at Salinas’ Toro Park.

“We don’t have one big person right now, but we have a lot of people who are grouped together,” Vasquez said. “As long as their numbers stay close together, and are all fast, we can make up for that one person.”

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