Cross-Country: Longer course doesn’t slow down Balers at Earthquake Invite

San Benito's Vanessa Estrada gets a huge lead Wednesday to come in first during the Monterey Bay league Gabilan Division Center Meet at Christmas Hill Park.

In her last cross-country race on San Benito High soil, Vanessa Estrada made sure to leave an impression for the 19 local high school teams.

In the second Earthquake Invitational at the Baler River Course on Saturday, Estrada showed exactly why she is considered a Central Coast Section favorite, finishing first by more than a minute.

The course, which was extended from 3.1 miles to 3.7 because of a hornets’ nest, was fast despite the changes. Estrada finished with a time of 21:25 to win easily. And Leland’s Richard Ho, with a time of 18:14, won for the second-consecutive year during the boys race.

“We had a fast group out there,” Jess Morales said. “It would have been great to break the course record. Everyone came in and did what they needed to do.”

The course record, which was set a year ago, would have fallen if the half mile wasn’t added, Morales said. It was necessary to extend the course, after the hornets’ nest caused havoc in the morning.

“There was a wasp nest and people were getting stung so we had to change the course,” Estrada said.

The longer course, though, didn’t change anything for Estrada, who continued her season-long dominance. Estrada controlled the girls race from the beginning, sprinting out to an early lead at the gun. Estrada’s lead only grew as the race continued.

“I wanted to do the regular course but, you know, you can’t stop mother nature,” Estrada said. “All I had to do was make a positive about it. I’m not going to be down. I tried to make my mind go blank. And I said ‘okay, I just need to follow this bike.’ And I just thought of it like practice. The other girls are really good, but I need to focus on myself. I don’t need to worry about anyone but me.”

She didn’t need to. By the time Leland’s Alyssa Johnson crossed the finish line in second place, Estrada was already enjoying a cup of water talking with spectators.

Overall, San Benito fell short of defending its team title from a year ago, placing second behind Aptos. The Mariners finished with three runners inside the top 10 to run away from the pack.

With a 12th place finished from Gabriella Alvarez (25:16) and a 13th place finish from Cynthia Trujillo (25:19) easily took second over Madera South. San Benito competed without top runners Maura Forbush and Amy Quinones.

In the next race, Steven Velarde (18:52) placed third to help the San Benito boys team finish third overall behind Madera South and Leland.

Velarde ran well, staying in front of the pack for the entire race. Velarde, though, fell slightly behind during the race’s second pass in front of spectators as Sobrato’s Ryan Corvese and Ho started to pull away.

Ho, with a time of 18:14, won the race with ease for the second-straight year, holding off Corvese by nine seconds. Velarde finished in a distance third with a time of 18:52.

The longer course, though, helped Velarde, he said.

“I’m much more of distance runner so I think it worked to our advantage,” he said. “It’s a home course too. We have to do well. The other thing is, I think the change of course kind of effected us as well. Originally, we had a game plan to hit certain sports in the course but we couldn’t do that today.”

He was happy with his strong finish.

“I gave it my all,” he said. “I was trying to go after Richard Ho from Leland and Ryan Corvese from Sobrato. I just kept going. They are seniors and I’m a junior so I was just trying to catch up to them.”

He nearly did that, entering the Andy Hardin track with the top finishers.

San Benito’s Ricardo Esqueda finished ninth place with a time of 19:33 to help the Balers earn a third-place finish.

The longer course also help Anzar’s lone representative – Diego Leon. The Anzar senior placed 14th with a time of 20:08. Leon ran to help build mileage before the Central Coast Section championships next month, he said.

“It’s not part of my season, I just wanted to come out here and see if I could run,” Leon said. “I need some mileage. I was doing too much speed before. I like it. The D-5 CCS is still in my sights. I think I can take it. I’m going to run as much as I can.”

For the event’s curator Jess Morales, it was another successful outing. Nearly 20 teams were in the field, including New Zealand’s Auckland Grammar.

Traveling in California for 20 days, the New Zealand team wanted to run at the Earthquake Invite after creating a friendship with Morales in 2005.

The team brought more than 20 runners to compete at the invite. Auckland Grammar, though, struggled with the heat, finishing in seventh place.

“The running in the heat is quite difficult,” Auckland Grammar coach Elian Jones said. “We are not used to running in the heat. We are used to running in 65 degrees. It’s a winter sport in New Zealand. Our Fall is quite different than your fall.”

He continued: “Bearing that in mind, it’s about experiences and some of these kids are 14 and they are getting the experience to travel 20 days in another country. I think they are having a great time.”

Overall, with a diverse field, the event was, once again, a success, Morales said.

“I’m happy,” he said. “I’m happy for the teams that came out here. Some of them came from a far way. It was good to see them all run out here. It was a good day. I’m happy for everyone.”

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