Cross Country: Balers on another strong run

San Benito High cross country runners Juan Gutierrez, Brianna Martin, Samantha Cortez and Katherine Monteon look to continue the long time success of the progam for the Balers this year. 

Even by its lofty standards, the San Benito High cross-country program had a memorable 2014 season. The boys advanced to the CIF State Meet by virtue of a third-place finish in the Central Coast Section Championships at Toro Park.
The girls had a terrific season as well, placing sixth in the CCS Championships. Both squads won Monterey Bay League titles in dominating fashion, and there’s no reason to think the Haybalers will have a letdown this season. The boys return senior standouts Elijah Changco and Juan Gutierrez, who finished 12th and 13th, respectively, in last year’s section championships.
They also return junior Nolan Sanchez and senior Jacob Morioka, who were reliable starters in last year’s lineup. Cross-country teams usually carry seven runners, with the first five counting in the scoring and the final two spots being used for tiebreaker purposes.
Changco, Gutierrez, Sanchez and Morioka are entrenched as the team’s top four runners, but boys coach Ryan Shorey knows the team will need someone else to rise up and post fast times for that fifth and final spot. Those vying for the position include freshmen Nico Tapia and Kelvyn Hernandez, sophomores Brandon Bell and Andrew Medina, juniors Tony Matarazzo and Chris Outman and senior Trystan Adams.
“We’re going to need something out of Tony if we want to have another shot at state,” said Shorey, who coaches the program along with Leanna Morgan. “Most of the guys have been training all summer, and Tony has already shown great improvement. It was nice to see the commitment from the kids to show up in the summer because it’s not required of them.”
At a recent practice, Shorey noted how Changco and Gutierrez were pushing each other to the finish, a testament to the competitive desire both runners possess. Once again, the Balers have tremendous depth, talent at the top, and just as important, the grit and work ethic to produce results.
“The goal is to make it to state again and do something the guys I think have never done before, which is accomplishing back-to-back state appearances,” Shorey said. “We’re expecting another good season, and I think league for us this year should be pretty straightforward.”
Meanwhile, the girls have plenty of reason for optimism, as they return four starters off a squad that finished three spots away from a state berth in 2014. Even though they graduated one of the school’s all-time best runners in Amy Quinones, they return key starters in senior Katherine Monteon, junior Brianna Martin and sophomores Samantha Cortez and Kira Emma.
Emma had a sensational freshman season, finishing in 34th in the CCS Championships. Cortez, despite coming off an injury-plagued year, placed 39th in the same race. Monteon was 57th and Martin 77th, respectively. Cortez has been clocking some fast times in practice, and those marks almost always translate over to the races.
“Samantha and Kira have a strong motivation to do well, and they don’t like being behind others, which is great,” Morgan said. “Samantha has been on point with her training, and in the next three weeks you’ll see a big jump in her performance.”
Cortez feels better than ever, having put in some quality miles during the summer. She strained her right quadriceps muscle at the beginning of the 2014 season, and then reinjured it near the halfway point of the season.
Despite missing a good chunk of the regular season, Cortez came back strong toward the end of the year, clocking a 20:20 at the MBL Championships en route to a third-place finish. Morgan and Shorey have been impressed with Cortez’s fitness level, and there’s no telling how fast the super sophomore can go this season.
“My goal time-wise is to break 20 minutes, hopefully go 19:30,” Cortez said. “I feel really good and strong right now and much faster than last year.”
Just like the boys, the girls have a solid nucleus in Cortez, Emma, Monteon and Martin. Because of the team’s depth, there are several candidates to fill the No. 5 slot, including sophomore Adriana Perez, seniors Jasmine Maldonado and Michelle Pastrana and freshmen Mariah Changco and Monique Barocio.
Morgan and Shorey have implemented a strength-training regimen to the program; the latest research shows that strength-training does help runners with their speed and form while also helping to prevent injuries.
“The weight-training is being well received by the athletes,” Morgan said.
It’s apparent that Morgan and Shorey have a good rapport, and even though Morgan is technically the girls coach and Shorey the boys coach, they don’t make that distinction with each other. Instead, they usually have a lengthy weekly meeting to discuss how both of them can improve as coaches, meeting the team’s needs and tailoring a workout for each athlete, because one size does not fit all when it comes to endurance athletes.
The Balers start their season on Sept. 5 when they host the San Benito High School Cross-Country Invitational. The 2-mile race starts and ends at Andy Hardin Stadium, with the majority of the race being run at the school’s cross-country course adjacent to the stadium.
Things kick off with the Open Division race at 7:30 a.m., with races going off every 20 minutes after that. In both the boys and girls categories, runners will be separated by grade: middle school, freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior. The Open Division and middle school races are sanctioned by the United States Track and Field Association, and the rest of the races are CCS-sanctioned events.
There is no fee to race in the open division or middle school competitions, but the school would gladly accept a donation, all of which would help the program buy a new digital timing system, along with new practice and race-day uniforms.

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