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Hollister High cross country teams on another good run

Gabby Romero, Kendra Melching, Valeria Esqueda and Melina Chavez are running well for a Hollister High girls cross country team that is poised to contend for another PCAL Gabilan Division championship. Photo courtesy of Ralph Chavez.

As a returning cross-country athlete, Melina Chavez spent the summer by—you guessed it—running. 

Unlike most of her peers, however, Chavez did most of her running on a treadmill instead of on the trails. The kicker? 

“I just preferred it better than running outside,” the Hollister High senior said. “I have a treadmill in the garage where I also lifted weights to build muscle (for injury prevention).”

Chavez is the daughter of Haybalers coach Ralph Chavez, and the two are cherishing their final year together. In three races this season, Melina has been the team’s No. 3 placer behind junior Kendra Melching and senior Gabriella Romero. 

Valeria Esqueda and Sasha Hernandez have been consistent performers as the Nos. 4-5 runners. 

“But we’ve got several other girls starting to make huge improvements who are going to be right there on their heels as well,” Ralph Chavez said. “It’s a good group, a real solid group.”

Melching is the team’s fastest runner and had a second-place finish in the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s first Gabilan Division Center Meet on Sept. 15. She covered the 3.1-mile course at Palo Corona Regional Park in Carmel in 21 minutes, 21 seconds. 

A year ago, Melching finished second in the division finals and a solid 33rd in the Division I race of the Central Coast Section Championships. Melching has proven to be one of the most consistent performers in the proud Hollister program in the last 10 years, routinely notching top-5 league meet finishes.

Romero took fourth in the first Center Meet, a testament to her tremendous improvement. Last season, Romero didn’t have a single top-9 finish in any of the three Center Meets. She was consistently running in the 22-minute range but clocked a personal-record (PR) of 19:48 over 3.0 miles in the Jackie Henderson Memorial race on Sept. 17. 

“Kendra and Gabby—and I can say this about all my varsity girls—first of all, they have a great work ethic,” Chavez said. “They’re always at practice, never making any excuses. So No. 1, they’re there all the time. Because of that they put in the work that’s required to be at the level they’re at. They’re already gifted athletes but because of their work ethic and rapport they have with each other and their teammates and natural competitiveness, all that helps them to be the type of runners they are. They’re just good athletes as well.”

Melina Chavez hit PRs over the 2.9 and 3.0-mile distances at the Monterey Bay Invitational and Jackie Henderson Memorial race, respectively, and looks to do the same over the 5K distance (3.1 miles) in the second Center Meet at Toro Park. 

“I feel like I could improve a little more and potentially be better,” she said. “It kind of made me realize that if I continue working hard, I can get further up in the league rankings.”

Chavez finished in eighth place in the Gabilan Division Championships last year, which gave her a nice push entering the ensuing track and field season and then the summer. 

“League finals really did boost my confidence because I didn’t even know I was in that range until they announced it,” she said. 

While the girls team returned all but one starter and looks to contend for another league title, Chavez said the boys team is in rebuilding mode. However, Chavez loves his runners and sees a promising future starting with standout sophomore and No. 1 runner Jared Huerta, who has a PR of 18:33 over 3.1 miles. 

“Jared has got a lot of natural talent and as long as he continues working he has a bright future,” Chavez said. 

While the Balers don’t have a probable league champion this season, they have solid runners in senior Luis Silva, freshmen Aidan Castaneda and Mark O’keefe, and sophomore Alexander Zander Brister. 

“Things look very promising for the boys team,” Chavez said. “They’re showing a lot of potential and I see a lot of good stuff coming out of them.”

Melina Chavez said she loves the team dynamic because the girls are close and support each other, on and off the course.

“I really enjoy working with all my teammates,” she said. “And Kendra and Gabby really inspire me and motivate me because I’d like to catch up to them. We all just want the best for each other.”

Of course, Melina appreciates having her dad as the coach, too.

“The best part is the quality time we get to share that bonds us together,” she said. “I know I can trust him because he wants the best for me.”

Ralph never pushed Melina or his older son Christian—a former Hollister High cross country standout—into running. Both dabbled in various sports growing up until they decided to run competitively in high school. Ralph appreciates how his daughter has strived to improve, with the times to prove it. 

“Melina has a very strong mind so mentally she’s a tough runner,” Ralph said. 

Though some children have a notoriously tough time having one of their parents as their coach and vice versa, the Chavez’s have enjoyed the family dynamic. 

“My kids still talk to me when I come home so I must be doing something right,” Ralph said with a chuckle. 

Mark O’keefe, Aidan Castaneda, CJ Brindeiro, Luis Silva and Jared Huerta form the boys team. Submitted photo.
Kendra Melching competes at an earlier meet this season. Submitted photo.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at elee@weeklys.com