Balers make it a clean track sweep

Balers senior Shaelynne Smith won the 100-meter hurdles in the MBL Finals. Photo by Ed Wong.

Ellie Miller had just cleared 5 feet in the high jump when she screamed, ‘Did I just do that?’ The San Benito High freshman had a look of disbelief and amazement as teammate Annie Breger rushed over to give her a congratulatory hug after Miller won the event in last Friday’s Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division Finals at Gilroy High.

Breger, by the way, had cleared 4-10 to finish as the runner-up, and yet she was just as happy for her precocious teammate even if it meant she didn’t win another individual league title. That moment encapsulated one of the great days in program history, as the Haybalers pulled off the rare double in which the boys and girls teams totaled the most points in the finals and in the regular season to cap off a perfect league season.

“It’s been our goal to win the double for the last eight years,” Balers coach Rob Macias said. “That was what we’ve been aiming for all along.”

Sprints and relays coach Ryan Shorey said the key was simple: while having talented and hard-working athletes proved important, it was the athletes’ unselfishness and willingness to push each other that proved decisive.

“Everybody was working for each other,” Shorey said. “This has been one of the best years where the kids come out to practice and do what it takes to make sure they’re successful. When you have kids who want each other to do well and have great attitudes, what can you say? Victory is the sweetest thing when everyone comes together.”

Indeed, several Balers produced spectacular performances, resulting in huge personal-records (PRs) and indelible moments they won’t soon forget. Senior Shaelynne Smith was still all glee and giggles an hour after winning the 100-meter hurdles in 16.07 seconds, chopping 7/10ths of a second off her previous PR.

Smith exploded off the blocks and led from the start, and she got stronger as the race went along. A couple of minutes after crossing the finish line, Smith was in a state of absolute bliss after she saw her time on the scoreboard ticker.

“This was a huge thing for me; I’m just speechless,” she said. “Before every race I get super nervous, but I never know if it’s a good thing or bad thing.”

Smith’s nerves Friday turned out to be a great thing. With her form on point, Smith looked smooth over all but one hurdle—I hit one in the middle of the race,” she said—en route to her first-ever individual league title. Smith credited assistant coach Ryan Bartylla for helping develop her form and technique every step of the way.

“He’s been patient with me, and I’m not going to lie—I’m a little stubborn,” Smith said. “He’s very reassuring, and that’s what empowers me. Near the end, I heard coach Bartylla saying, ‘Go Shaelynne, go. I knew I had to push it and finish. I went and saw the result and started crying. … Having my family here supporting me was also a really big deal and made a big difference.”

Smith had plenty of reasons to be emotional. For most of the season, Smith’s times clocked in the mid-17 second range. However, Smith has gone sub 17 in her last three events, culminating in Friday’s 16.07. Junior Jonathan Ramos also had a meet to remember, going 21 feet, 7 inches to win the long jump championship.

Ramos, whose previous PR was 19-11, established three PRs in Friday’s final. He was at 21-1 and in second place before unleashing the best jump of his career on his final attempt. Before the season started, Ramos’ goal was to make it past the MBL Trials, something he didn’t do last year.

However, Ramos has made a dramatic improvement from last season, as he was in the mid-17 feet range. Asked to account for the difference in nailing multiple PRs in the same meet, Ramos chalked it up to the moment.

“I didn’t want my season to end, so I had to jump farther,” he said. “I know I have to keep getting better and better every meet, so I go all out. It feels good because I didn’t expect to win this. I had to figure out what I was doing wrong and coach told me to extend in the air and reach out harder.”

Ramos, who possesses tremendous speed on the runway, is only in his second year of long jumping. It’s apparent Ramos has the body type to excel in the event, and he certainly knows how to rise up in the moment. In last year’s MBL Trials, Ramos went 18-1—the first time he had ever hit 18.

Speaking of clutch performances, junior Anthony Delgado blazed his way to a PR and a school record in the 110 hurdles, clocking a 14.78 to win the title in runaway fashion. Delgado’s time was essentially a full second faster than Gilroy’s Logan Flores, who had the second fastest overall time of the day as he won the Pacific Division title in 15.77.

Making Delgado’s accomplishment all the more impressive is he sustained a groin injury in a dual meet against North Monterey County on March 15 and a hamstring injury against Alisal on April 18. Still, the obstacles proved to be no deterrent in Delgado posting the PR he was working for all season.

“I felt good today and was hoping to beat it,” Delgado said, referring to his previous PR of 14.94 established at last year’s MBL Masters Meet. “

As Delgado crossed the finish line first for the third consecutive year in the 110 hurdles final, he knew he had posted a fast time—he just didn’t know how fast. Unless Delgado re-aggravates one of his previous injuries, he will be in contention for another CCS top three finish and berth to the CIF State Championships. Last season, Delgado took third before advancing to state, where he ran a disappointing 15.17.

“I want to go back to state because last year I didn’t perform as well as I should’ve,” said Delgado, who has the third fastest time in the section. “I’ve been really encouraged because coach Bartylla said my form has been perfect and clean. This win touches my heart more because of the school record. I had been close so many times, but with this, it’s official.”

Senior Elli Kliewer won her first individual title in the Finals—she did take first in the Masters Meet last year—running the 3200 meter event in 11:47.75. Kliewer, who also had a second-place finish in the 1600, led from the start and comfortably nailed her lap times despite not having the use of her watch.

“I think the battery died out or something,” she said. “I didn’t worry about it because I felt pretty good out there. I was hitting even splits from what my coach was telling me, so that helped. It feels good because I wanted to help the team win league and contribute as much as I could. Last year we lost by a few points, so it was important for us to come out on top this time.”

It was Miller time—as in Ellie Miller, the rising freshman standout who is still learning the finer nuances of technique and form in the high jump. Miller was downright giddy and exuberant after winning the high jump. Even though Miller had a previous PR of 4-10 entering the event, she didn’t expect to win the event as a freshman.

“I honestly didn’t think I was going to clear 4-6 today because that’s been my average the whole season,” she said. “I was a little nervous at the start, but I just came at it and everything felt so perfect. When I cleared 5 feet, it was so crazy. I’m just a freshman, but I’m listening to my coaches. They tell me to be confident in yourself and turn your nervousness into confidence.”

And that’s exactly what Miller did. The Balers also swept both relays in the boys races, as the quartet of Ivan Mendoza, Tristan Camacho, Robert Mendoza and William Castellanos finished in 43.46 in the 4×100 relay. The 4×400 relay team—with brothers Ivan, Adam and Robert Mendoza along with Castellanos—finished in 3:25.64.

It was a banner day for Castellanos, who also won the 200- and 400-meter final in 22.54 and 51.22 seconds, respectively. Castellanos nailed a PR in the 200, a race in which he looked strong from the get-go. In the 400, Castellanos got out of the blocks behind a couple of runners before hitting his stride with 200 meters to go.

“I’ve always wanted that league championship,” he said. “I was able to keep my form, and it’s a great feeling. I saw this coming because I was working hard for this and was confident knowing the 200 is my best race. I started a little nervous in the 400 because I knew it was the three of us competing for the title.”

Indeed, Castellanos, Robert Mendoza and Adam Mendoza made it a 1-2-3 finish in the event, with Robert finishing just behind Castellanos in 51.28 and Adam crossing the line in 51.52.

“It’s great racing with your teammates,” said Castellanos, who has also been a three-year standout on the boys soccer team. “As long as one of us won, it was going to be a good night.”

The 4×100 relay team didn’t have the cleanest of exchanges, and Castellanos is looking forward to the next couple of races so the squad can lower their times.

“Our steps were just off a little bit in the 4×100,” he said. “But we’ll get better. We work a lot on our teamwork, our steps and supporting each other all the time.”

The San Benito girls 4×400 relay team also ran away from the competition, as the quartet of Lucero Ramirez, Makenna Parks, Hailey Cross and Emily Quinby finished in 4:14.03, more than 2 seconds faster than the runner-ups. Ramirez and Parks ran their splits in the 64 second range and Cross and Quinby the 62 second range, making for a nice combination.

“It’s all adrenaline,” Cross said. “Coach told us the meet will come down to us, and we said, ‘It’s alright coach, we’ve got this.’ I’m just happy we won this.”

Several other Balers shined, including Breger, Peter Reikowski and Ben Hagan. Breger repeated as champion in the long jump and also took first in the triple jump, her best event. The senior went 35-11 in the triple and 17-4 in the long jump to collect two individual titles.

Reikowski, who has the third best mark in the section this season, took second in the pole vault at 13 feet. Hagan, meanwhile, won the high jump in 5-10.

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