College: Former Balers thriving at Sacramento State

Sacramento State sophomore Amy Quinones developed into the team's top runner this season.

Former San Benito High standouts Amy Quinones and Elijah Changco had terrific seasons running cross country for Sacramento State University this season. Quinones, a 2015 San Benito graduate, and Changco, a 2016 graduate, capped off their year at the Big Sky Championships in Moscow, Idaho on Oct. 29.

Quinones, a sophomore, was the fastest finisher from the Sacramento State women’s team, placing 11th overall in 18 minutes, 5.3 seconds over the 5K (3.1 mile) course. Quinones was just a second off from finishing 10th and earning all-Big Sky honors. Changco, a freshman, was the fourth finisher from the men’s team, covering 8K (4.97 miles) in 26:32.9.

A year ago, Quinones was the team’s fifth or sixth top finisher. But this year she made a quantum leap of improvement, establishing herself as the top runner in the program.

“This was a really big jump I didn’t know I could make,” she said. “Last year I was just excited to make the traveling squad (top seven runners travel with the team for away competitions).”

Changco wouldn’t mind if his trajectory follows along the same path as Quinones’ from his freshman to sophomore season. Depending on the race, Changco usually finished anywhere from second to fifth for the men’s team. Both runners have gotten faster by putting in more volume, with Changco running 70 to 80 miles a week and Quinones averaging 65 to 70 miles per week.

Changco knew things would be serious when a couple of weeks into practice he was told to do an 8-mile run at 5:30-mile pace, which was his race pace in high school. Changco ended up running the last mile in 5:10, a byproduct of increasing his aerobic capacity by consistently logging high mileage weeks.

“I didn’t know how I could hold 5:30 and be comfortable, but I ended up running race pace for 8 miles,” he said.

At the Broncos Invitational hosted by Santa Clara University at Baylands Park in Sunnyvale on Oct. 15, Quinones finished 13th overall, tops for her team. Her time of 20:59.9 minutes was her fastest over a 6K (3.73 miles) of the season. Changco was second for Sacramento State, covering 8K in 25:10.3. Both runners had a huge contingent of family and friends at the meet, making it a true homecoming for the former Balers standouts.

Changco was reunited with former Balers coach Jess Morales and friend Juan Gutierrez, who ran cross country for San Jose State this season.

“On the course I could hear either coach Morales’ family, Juan’s dad, my family, and family of my teammates,” Changco said. “Literally everywhere on the track I could hear someone cheering us on, which was amazing.”

Through discipline, focus and hard work, Changco has displayed the potential that was evident during a standout career at San Benito. There’s no telling what the next two years might bring for Quinones, who is looking forward to making a big improvement in the indoor and outdoor track season. Last spring, Quinones had a lifetime best of 17:28 in the 5000-meter run.

“This cross country season was really exciting and an eye opener for what I could possibly do in the future,” she said.

The key for Quinones was trusting in the workouts and pushing herself to another level in training. From the time Sacramento State started recruiting Quinones, the program has gone through a couple of coaching changes. However, Quinones feels the coaching situation has finally settled, and the results speak for themselves.

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