Anzar cross country, volleyball thrives

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Alex Avila, Alejandro Rosillo and Damian Gomez aim for PRs in Saturday's CCS Championships. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The Anzar High boys cross country team didn’t pick a great time to have a subpar performance—on the day of the Pacific Coast Athletic League Championships on Oct. 27. Expecting to finish third in the team rankings in the Santa Lucia Division—which carries an automatic berth into the Central Coast Section Championships—the Hawks finished in fourth.

Hawks coach Izzy Parra chalked the result up to youth, noting the team’s relative lack of race experience. However, Anzar still qualified three individuals to the section championships—which take place on Saturday at the Crystal Springs Course in Belmont—including junior Alex Avila and sophomores Alejandro Rosillo and Damian Gomez. Anzar’s top five runners feature four sophomores and a junior, meaning the best has yet to come.

“The good thing is all the guys are young,” Parra said. “We’ll be back next year and the year after that. It’s all a learning experience.”

Avila took eighth overall in 18 minutes, 43 seconds at the 3.0-mile course at Toro Park in Salinas. Rosillo, the team’s No. 1 runner, finished in 12th in 19:14 and Gomez placed 16th in 19:45. The team’s Nos. 4 and 5 scoring runners included Max Clark (17th in 19:48) and Arturo Velasquez (19th in 20:11). Parra said even though the team had a disappointing finish in the league finals, the team’s three runners who will run on Saturday—and in particular, Avila and Rosillo—have a shot at redemption in the section championships.

“Luckily, they get another crack at it in CCS,” Parra said. “We ran at Crystal earlier in the year, so they know the course.”

At the ultra-competitive Crystal Springs Invitational on Oct. 6, Avila finished in 17:50.3, Rosillo in 18:51.5 and Gomez in 19:35.1. Parra expects all three runners to PR, especially Gomez, who has been resilient in running through pain this season.

“Damian has stepped up a lot this year dealing with a knee injury during the race (in the league finals),” Parra said. “That didn’t stop him from grinding it out. I expect him to have another big race, and I think he has the highest ceiling for improvement out of all of them since he hasn’t been 100 percent. He’s a speedster with a good kick at the end of races.”

Clark has dropped some serious minutes since the start of his freshman year in 2017, when he started the season with a time of 28 minutes in the squad’s pre-season time trial. His 19:48 in the league finals meant Clark has dropped over eight minutes off his best mark over three miles.

“I see him running in the 18s for sure in the future,” Parra said.

Parra can’t wait to see how Avila and Rosillo respond at Crystal Springs. The team’s top two runners are motivated, talented and hard working, the formula needed for running success. To get a sense of how motivated the team is, look no further than Clark and Velasquez, who are still running with the CCS qualifiers at practice even though their season is over.

“Arturo and Max are still coming to practice and getting an early start putting in their fall and winter miles,” Parra said. “They don’t like that they didn’t make it to CCS, and they have an attitude to keep training. You can’t ask much more from these guys.”

ANZAR VOLLEYBALL

Maddie Barrios didn’t know what to expect in her first year coaching the Anzar High girls volleyball team. Inheriting essentially the same core group of players from a team that went 2-14 last year, the Hawks turned things around in a big way in 2018, finishing 16-13, including a win in the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division V playoffs on Oct. 27.

Even though Anzar saw its season end three days later in a three-set loss to Notre Dame-Salinas, nothing could put a damper on what the team accomplished this season.

“I think we’re all pretty stoked for the year we had and the effort we all put in,” Barrios said. “I felt the girls were super productive and made a lot of improvement from last season.”

Barrios pointed to the play of Kiauna Oliver, Abigail Lindholm, Ebony Telford, Maya Dizon and Rachel Cardini for being tremendous impact players. Oliver, a sophomore outside hitter, has a high hitting percentage and unleashed consistent swings.

“Kiauna can swing and hit it from the 10-foot line, which is crazy fun to see,” Barrios said. “It’s fun watching her, and she has legitimate college potential.”

Lindholm, a junior middle blocker, epitomized the players’ attitude in that she was eager to improve, take in instruction from the coaches and transfer that to the court.

“She was super and everything you want in a player,” Barrios said. “She’s super coachable, listens to feedback and is super eager to fix the little mistakes common to all players. That was a big joy being able to coach a team that has a lot of players like that. She had a really good swing and put up a big block.”

Dizon, a junior setter, displayed excellent skills in moving the ball, mixing up the offensive distribution and pushing hitters to do something out of their comfort zone, Barrios said. Dizon possesses a technical acumen and knowledge of the game that propelled the Hawks to take their game to another level. Telford, a junior outside hitter, possesses tremendous athleticism and mental toughness.

“Ebony is great in the mental aspect of the game, which is super crucial and something we stress,” Barrios said. “She’s the most happiest player you’ll ever meet. She can slam the ball and is super positive even in tough times. She’s the emotional backbone for the girls to lean on when times get super hectic out there. The girls can look to her and say, ‘Hey, I need your help,’ because she has a great presence about her.”

Cardini, a senior outside hitter/right side, provides vocal support on the court and plays multiple positions, a testament to her versatility. Cardini played on the outside and right side for half the season, but midway through she also played middle blocker. In addition, Cardini played libero in the team’s season-finale against Notre Dame because her passing was superb.

“She’s super verbal on the court, and we need that when times are quiet,” Barrios said.

Barrios credited junior varsity coach Megan Campos—a former Anzar High standout—and athletic director Mike McKinney for providing the support necessary for the team to have a bounce back season.

“They were super helpful during season, Barrios said. “Megan had such a big role in helping out with the coaching and helping me figure out Anzar’s whole program. We

have a good group of players returning next year, and we’re super excited to work with them in open gyms and getting the season going next year. I think we’ll have a really strong team if the girls continue to play club in the off-season.”

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