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A good run: San Benito cross country teams look to sustain excellence

Cynthia Tena and Kendra Melching return to lead the San Benito High girls cross country team to another run at a league title. Photo by Robert Eliason.

For as long as she can remember, Kendra Melching has liked running. But once she entered her freshman year at San Benito High in fall 2020, Melching started to love running. 

“When I got to high school everything changed,” she said. “Practices became more focused and I really love the dynamics of the sport and the simplicity of it.”

It shows. The sophomore is off to a nice start this season, garnering a second- and third-place finish despite not having a full summer training season due to an injury. Melching leads a girls team that won the first Pacific Coast League meet of the season on Sept. 16 at Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy.

Melching was second overall, covering the 3.0-mile course in 20 minutes, 46 seconds. The girls placed first among the Gabilan Division teams as Cynthia Tena, Melina Chavez and Valeria Esqueda finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.

Gabriella Romero was 10th, Mia Briano was 14th and Sasha Hernandez rounded out the team’s participants with a 24th-place finish. Melching still plays competitive soccer, but running no longer takes a backseat to the beautiful game.

In middle school, she decided to compete for Rancho San Justo’s cross country team—mainly as a way to stay in tip-top shape for soccer—but in the process gained a deep passion for running. 

Melching loves being a part of the Balers’ tradition-rich program that competes for league titles every year amid a healthy atmosphere. Chavez sees the team building a cohesive bond and developing chemistry on and off the course.

“They’re clicking as a team and that motivates them to want to continue to excel for themselves and each other,” he said. “As a coach, you can’t ask for anything more.”

For the last several years—perhaps even a decade—the Balers have had a freshman or two who comes in and makes an immediate impact.

“Right now there is a good wave of girls distance runners in the area,” he said. “You have seventh and eighth graders excelling in the junior high programs, and when they come in with us, they’re ready to go and challenge for the top spots.”

Esqueda and Briano are both freshmen and have hit the ground running. Chavez said Briano has recovered from shin splints and should be posting faster times in the coming weeks.

Rebuilding season

For the first time in recent memory, the boys team doesn’t have a standout. However, Chavez has been happy with the runners’ efforts and attitude. Junior Luis Silva and freshman Zander Brister have been leading the way, with Silva coming back each season having made a noticeable improvement.

“He comes back stronger which is awesome to see,” Chavez said. 

The nice thing about a rebuilding season is most of the runners will return next year faster and with added experience, Chavez said.

The team’s top placers in the first league meet of the season included Silva, Brister, Jared Huerta, Daniel Alcala, Charles Brindeiro, Estevan Rodriguez, and Dyre Paciente. Chavez expects Alcala to be running faster times once he gets up to speed.

The senior spent most of the summer in Mexico with his family and returned to the area a couple of days before school started, Chavez said.

“Daniel is a real good, humble kid,” Chavez said. “It’ll take time to get where he wants to be, but he’ll get there.”

Balers freshman Zander Brister runs his way to a 21st-place finish in the first PCAL Cross Country meet of
the season at Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy on Sept. 16. Photo by Robert Eliason.