Balers making a run for state meet

Elli Kliewer and Samantha Cortez are the top returners for the Baler girls cross country team.

In terms of being consistently excellent, the San Benito High cross country teams are among the gold standard in the Central Coast Section. The boys and girls squads routinely finish first or second in league, and in most years, place in the top 10 in the CCS Championships.

This season should be no different. The Haybalers kick off the 2017 campaign on Sept. 2 at home with the Dry River Run, an event that gets the entire community involved. The Dry River Run has races for all age levels, including an open division, middle school and high school category.

“The girls team is looking great as normal and our boys team really started off on the right foot with our two time trials,” said Ryan Shorey, who along with Leanna Morgan are entering their fourth season as the co-coaches. “We have some pretty good young runners coming in, and at one point had 60 total runners during summer conditioning.”

The girls team took a distant third in the CCS Division I race last year to miss a state berth by one position. Although disappointed, San Benito should be just as strong—if not stronger—to make another run for state this year. The Balers return several key standouts from last year’s team, including No. 1 runner Elli Kliewer, an incoming senior who finished 11th in last year’s section championships.

San Benito also returns Samantha Cortez, who finished 12th in last year’s section race, fellow seniors Hailey Cross and Makenna Parks along with junior Mariah Changco. In addition, the Balers have a talented freshmen class coming in, led by Lauren Okamoto, who Shorey describes as a superior talent along the lines of past Balers standouts Amy Quinones, Vanessa Estrada and Courtney Allen.

“Every once in while we get that runner that has the potential to take the program to the next level,” Shorey said. “And Lauren in the future could certainly be that runner.”

Okamoto ran the second fastest time in the 2-mile time trails, with a best of 13 minutes, 27 seconds. If Okamoto ends up producing fast times alongside Kliewer, then the Balers are primed for a state run. That’s because Shorey also expects big things from incoming junior Emily Quinby, who has run track the last two years but will be in her first season running cross country (she did volleyball in the fall the previous two years).

Although the boys team didn’t have its typical upper-tier finish in 2016—they took 13th in the CCS Championships—they’re set for a stronger run this season. San Benito returns its No. 1 runner, Joseph Loredo, an incoming junior who finished 40th in the section finals.

The Balers, who had solid numbers a year ago, figure to have more depth in 2017. Other top returnees include the junior quartet of Elliot Ruiz, Nico Tapia, Christian Casarez and Gerald Maresh. Seniors Luis Mendoza and Arturo Chavez along with freshman Isaiah Rabago all have the potential to make an impact.

“Judging by our time trials, we’re certainly off to a good start,” Shorey said, noting Loredo ran 2 miles in 11 minutes, 8 seconds and Ruiz in 11:09. “I’m definitely happy with those times knowing they will get faster.”

Loredo said he’s a much improved runner from a year ago, both mentally and physically. Loredo has been running 60 to 70 miles a week for the last three or four weeks, which has given him confidence. The number might seem staggering given the fact that Loredo was regularly logging 40-plus mile weeks last season.

However, Loredo is comfortable with the amount of mileage he’s putting in. Loredo tries to get in 10 miles a day, which is usually split up with a morning and evening session. In between, he does a lot of stretching to keep his legs supple.

“I feel a lot better this season compared to last year,” he said. “I feel good about the team as well. I feel we all came back a little faster, and that’s exciting to see.”

Loredo plans on breaking 16 minutes this season over a typical 3-mile course; his personal-record is 16 minutes, 40 seconds. The San Benito boys finished out of the top 10 in the Division I CCS Championships, and they’re intent on making sure that doesn’t happen again.

Shorey was also high on Rabago, who ran a 12:10 in one of the time trials and as of last week ranked eighth on the team’s depth chart.

“Isaiah is very serious about the sport, which is sweet,” Shorey said. “To have someone as determined as he is at this point is pretty exciting. When the motivation is there, the possibilities are endless.”

 

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