For years, Jess Morales, the long-time San Benito cross-country coach, wanted to have a home-town cross-country meet every year. Because of issues with the dirt track that rests behind the school, it seemed like it would never happen.
But last year, Morales and the Balers hosted the first ever Earthquake Invitational on the San Benito campus. The invite returns Saturday and Morales is hoping it’s bigger and better.
Numbers wise, the 2012 invite will be much bigger. Sixteen teams from around California – from Stockton to Madera – will compete, as San Benito tries to protect its championship from a year ago.
“It’s going to be tough for us,” Morales said. “Now that we have more teams it’s going to be tough for us to win it. That’s what it’s all about. Now, it’s going to be tough to place in the top three. The teams that are coming in are not easy.”
That’s, of course, by design, Morales said. He wants his team, which is again led by Vanessa Estrada, to face the best teams they can.
“It’s going to be a good, fast varsity race,” Morales said. “Vanessa will have some competition and that’s a good thing.”
The teams will also compete against an international squad from New Zealand, which is making the long trip to California this week. The international flavor should boost the already poplar event, Morales said.
“They could have gone to Stanford,” he said. “They called me and said ‘we will be at your race.’ It’s impressive to see a team like that come out here.”
San Benito returns Estrada, fellow senior Maura Forbush and sophomore Amy Quinones from last year’s first-place team. The boys team, though, only returns Steven Velarde and Ricardo Esqueda.
Either way, Morales expects to see his team run well.
“It will be a good race,” he said.
The star of the show, though, should be the Baler River Course, a dirt track that winds behind the school and along the San Benito riverbed. It’s a spectator course that allows attendees to watch nearly an entire race.
“We are trying to have the local people come to a cross-country race and see our course and have it open,” Morales said. “People that have never seen a cross-country race before can see one live and see it from the start.”
He continued: “They can see the middle and the end of the race. It’s a spectator course. You can stand in one spot and watch how fast these kids are running. It’s going to be fun.”
It’ll be a showcase for what the course, which was widened by Tonascia Farms earlier this month, can do for the school’s cross-country program. Eventually, Morales hopes to hold league title meets in Hollister.
“It’s always been a dream to have something here because Hollister has never had some thing before,” he said. “Now we have it in our backyard. It’s our home course. Hopefully, after having this invitational teams will be able to watch our course and we will have the league championship here.”
That success will come from the course’s local support, Morales said.
“It’s great to have the community involved,” he said. “It’s touching.”
The Invitational will also include a race for children 13 and younger. Participants can register at the event starting at 7 a.m. The races being at 8 a.m.
The varsity races will begin at 10 a.m.