No home, no problem for Balers track and field

Balers sophomore Ellie Miller competed in the high jump, triple jump, long jump and 100-meter hurdles. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Despite not having a home facility this season, the San Benito High track and field program didn’t miss a beat, especially in last Friday’s Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division Championships at North Monterey County High. The Haybaler boys captured the title in dominating fashion, totaling 127 points to better second-place Palma by 52 points.

The girls team took third and had several standouts who shined. Speaking of shining stars, none was brighter than senior Dillon Engler, who won two individual events—the 110 and 300-meter hurdles—placed third in another (100 meter dash) and was a part of the second-place 4×400 relay team. All in all, not a bad day at the track. After the second of his two hurdles victories, hurdles coach Ryan Bartylla told Engler he had never had one of his athletes win both hurdles events in a championship finals meet.

“It makes me feel special, definitely,” Engler said. “It lets me know I’m doing the right things to get myself prepared for competition.”

Engler was simply dynamite, covering the 110 hurdles in 15.13 seconds and the 300 hurdles in 40.14. Even though Engler didn’t hit a personal-record (PR) in any of the hurdles events, his times were still fast considering the not so ideal conditions for sprinters. Temperatures were in the low 50s in Castroville, making it tougher for the sprinters and mid-distance sprinters to recover in between races. However, Engler didn’t seemed fazed one bit.

“I feel good and still feel like I can push more,” he said after the third of his four races.

Engler competed in the 4×400 relay to help the team rack up points—“I’m not a 400 runner,” he said—but he also enjoys challenging and pushing himself in other events to better himself. In the 300 hurdles race, Engler stuttered on the third and fourth hurdles, throwing his rhythm off a bit. But he recovered nicely and cruised to victory.

“It’s pretty tough to get your rhythm back, but luckily there’s enough room between each hurdle to regain it, unlike the 110,” he said.

While Engler was the lone member on the boys team to win an individual title, several others had top three finishes to rack up valuable points for the Haybalers. The list includes Tristan Camacho, Robert Mendoza, Ben Hagan, Joseph Loredo, Elliot Ruiz, Isaac Gonzalez, Jonathan Ramos and Alexander San Miguel, who finished third in the triple jump with a mark of 40 feet, 11.75 inches.

Camacho, a junior, ran the 100 meter dash in 11.34 seconds for second place and was third in the 200 in 22.86. Mendoza had a pair of second-place showings in the 200 in 22.78 and the 400 in 50.97. Loredo finished second in the 800 in 2:00.95, while Ruiz went 2:03.96 to place third. The Balers 4×100 relay team of Camacho, Ramos, Mendoza and Zach Sims finished second in 44.47, while the 4×400 relay squad of Engler, Camacho, Mendoza and Emiliano Quintero also took second in 3:30.98.

Gonzalez finished second in the discus with a mark of 136-8, and Hagan had a second-place showing in the high jump at 5-10. Ramos took third in the long jump in 21-1 ½. One of the great stories coming out of the boys team features sophomore Cherta Torng, who took fifth in the pole vault with a mark of 11-6 despite not having picked up a vault until three weeks before the league finals.

Torng competed in the pole vault last year and had a best mark of 10-6. However, given the team’s situation this season, no one pole vaulted until Torng had a conversation with one of the North Salinas coaches in the team’s last dual meet which led to him being able to use one of the poles from the North Salinas athletes. “He comes up to me and asks me if he could do it, and I said, ‘Yeah, go ahead Cheeto,’” Balers coach Rob Macias said. “And he ends up winning the JV event at 10 feet. So we’re going into finals week and I was going to put him in JV, but talked to him and said, ‘Hey, I might put you in varsity and see how you do.’ He said, ‘I’m OK with that coach.’ We put him in, he placed in the top 12 for trials and here he is now with a PR. It’s a great story because his season should’ve been done last Tuesday (April 23) and here he is moving on to the next round. He is a utility guy who will do whatever we ask of him. If someone is missing in the 200 or 4×400, he’s up and game and will run anything. You’ve got to like kids like that. If you can have a whole team of kids like that, the sky’s the limit.”

The girls team had a couple of individual winners in Hailey Cross (400), Julia Hicks (shot put) and Ellie Miller, who was a repeat champion in the long jump. The sophomore, who played No. 3 singles on the tennis team last fall, displayed her versatility and athleticism by also placing fourth in the triple jump, sixth in the 100 hurdles and ninth in the long jump.

Miller excelled despite not having any jump pits or equipment to practice with this season. The Balers have practiced at Rancho San Justo, but the field athletes can’t practice their discipline. The only time they get to practice is at meets, and they’ve certainly made the most of a tough situation.

“The meets are the only times I ever get to do the high jump,” Miller said. ‘It’s crazy and it’s tough because usually I have all of my events going on at the same time. So it felt really good to win this and assuring. It was kind of stressful because I had to coast off of what I learned last year.”

Miller equaled her PR of 5 feet in winning the high jump. On the jump that won it, Miller made sure to keep her form in check—namely, her approach and knee drive—to hit the exact mark that won her the title last season as well. Hicks won the shot put with a throw of 32-6 ½ and was second in the discus with a PR of 112-6. The sophomore continues to ascend up the rankings and has the potential to make it to the CCS Finals by next season if she continues to improve.

“It feels good to win and get a PR in the discus because there was good competition between me and Jessie Pavek (of Notre Dame-Salinas),” Hicks said. “I’m excited, but hopefully I’ll do better in the Master’s Meet.”

Hicks would’ve liked a better mark in the shot put; however, she knows if she continues to work hard, the results in the form of PRs will come.

“I’ve been putting in the work even though we don’t have a track right now,” she said. “It’s been a challenge, but I’m always up for a challenge.”

Hicks grew up doing martial arts, and next year she’ll try to earn her fourth degree karate belt black belt. She only tried out for the track and field team last year as a freshman because she wanted to compete for one of the school’s sports teams.

“I knew I wasn’t going to run because I’m not that fast,” she said. “And doing martial arts, I knew my strength would help me in the throwing events.”

When Hicks unleashed her PR throw in the discus, she had an inkling it would go far.

“A great throw feels effortless, and that is what it felt like,” she said.

Cross delivered a sensational performance in the 400, establishing a PR of 1:01.63 seconds. Cross and assistant coach Ryan Shorey had a feeling Cross could do something special in the 400, and it came to fruition. Looking strong from the gun, Cross made up the stagger by 100 meters and taken control of the race. In the final 100, Cross started hurting—in a good way.

“My face said it all,” she said. “Ah man, that hurt. I was thinking maybe at the 100 (meter mark) I got out too fast, but I was still able to kick it in the final 200. It hurt coming through the last 100, but I wanted it. I didn’t think I was going to win the 400, so this was awesome.”

Cross only ran the 400 meter event four times last year, but has doubled that total this season. She’s shaved over four seconds off from her best time last season, a huge improvement and there’s no telling how much faster she can go in the event should she continue running it. Cross chalks up her improvement to several factors.

“I’m listening to my body now,” she said. “I’m doing all of the training and taking care of my body, from stretching, (foam) rolling after practice, doing the extra stuff on the side. People won’t take the time, but it really helps the body recover and perform. I’m also eating right, which does wonders for the body. These last couple of weeks I’ve been hitting 62 (second splits) and have improved my speed.”

Speaking of speed, freshman Alys Pareja has come on strong this season. She took third in the 100-meter dash in in a PR of 13.08 seconds, fifth in the 200 in 27.67 and anchored the 4×100 relay team that finished third. Another impressive freshman, Mia Villegas, placed third in the 400 in 1:02.30 and has a PR of 1:01.15 in the event, which she established at the CCS Top 8 Classic. Lauren Okamoto finished third in the 1600 in 5:21.71.

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