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San Benito track and field standouts make their mark

Andrew Speech was part of the winning 4x400 relay team in the PCAL Masters Meet/CCS Qualifier on May 27. Photo by Juan Reyes.

It’s always tough to run a leg of the 4×400 meter relay as the final event in a high school track and field meet, especially after competing in a couple of individual events prior. But that’s exactly what Ramon Duran and Zach Sims did on May 27 in the Pacific Coast League Masters/Central Coast Section Qualifier Meet at San Benito High School. 

Sims ran the opening leg and Duran the anchor, and teammates Anton Borges and Andrew Speech helped power the foursome to a winning time of 3:41.40. Duran and Sims also were a part of the Balers’ victorious 4×100 relay team along with Malachi Zabala and Anthony Mercurio. Giavanna Felice also was a part of a victorious relay team—the girls 4x 400—and was a member of the second-place 4×100 team. The junior also won the 400-meters in a personal-record (PR) of 1:02.29.

Other event winners included Julia Hicks (girls discus and shot put), Frank Hernandez (boys shot put), Kaden Peterson (boys discus) and Nathaniel Marquez (boys high jump). The top six placers in each event qualify for the Central Coast Section Semifinals on June 12 at Soquel High in Aptos. Duran can’t wait to race against the section’s best, because he’s proven all season he’s right up there with them. 

He nailed PRs in both of his events, which gives him top 10 marks entering the CCS Semis (15.87 seconds in 110 hurdles and 40.99 in the 300). Duran did just about everything but clean up the infield afterward, and he probably helped with that as well given San Benito was the host school. Simply put, Duran accomplished what he set out to do.

“Once I got on the blocks, I was just feeling it,” Duran said. “You work hard and this is what you hope to get out of it. I’m definitely happy with what I hit today and looking forward to CCS.”

In the 110 race warmups, Duran knew he needed to go a little lower over the hurdle because “the less time I’m in the air, the faster I’m going,” he said. He cleared the first hurdle with solid technique and arm position, and his trail leg only briefly touched the second to last hurdle. Two years ago, Duran advanced to the CCS Semifinals in the 110 hurdles and finished in a time of 17.02 seconds. He made it his mission from that point on to take his performance to another level, and that’s exactly what he’s done. 

“I got a lot of nerves out in my sophomore year at CCS,” he said. “That was my year when I ran with the big guys and for me to learn how to cope with the nervous feeling and energy before and during a race. I learned how to manage that energy in order to stay focused throughout my race.”

Hicks also has had quite a season, as she broke the school record in the discus with a throw of 140-3 in a May 13 meet, smashing her previous PR of 137-8. Now she has a goal to break the school’s shot put record at CCS, which means she would need to go from her present PR of 38-5 to the record of 39-4.

“Eleven inches in the shot put is kind of far, but all it takes is one throw,” said Hicks, who ranks first in the CCS in the discus and third in the shot put. “Breaking the shot put record has been a goal and something in the back of my mind. Hopefully, I will do it. If not, I think one school record is good to end my senior year.”

When Hicks unleashed her school record-breaking throw in the discus, it was a moment she’ll never forget. 

“It was pretty surreal,” she said. “When the coach marked it and said, ‘I would like to announce a new school record,’ I was ecstatic. I went into the ring, took a deep breath and had a lot of energy flowing from the crowd and my teammates cheering me on. So that definitely helped to push me and just reminds me that I’ve got it, I know what I’m doing and I just have to go out and do my best. I have my coach, parents and teammates to thank for it because they’re my biggest motivators for sure.”

Sims certainly had his mojo working in the Masters Meet, unleashing a 55-second split on the opening leg of the 4×400 relay to give the Balers a nice lead entering the second leg. 

“It was all adrenaline that last stretch,” he said. “I heard people in the crowd saying, ‘He’s behind you,’ so I couldn’t let anyone pass me to the baton exchange. We’re very competitive, so it was going to be hard for anyone to pass us with how much grit our team has.”

Sims was equally impressive with his winning long jump of 21-9 ¾, a new PR. He also took third in the triple jump and is ranked in the top 8 in the CCS in both events. A former baseball player, Sims did two years of cross country before finding his best sport in track and field. His ability to excel in both the running and field events is proof of his tremendous athleticism and versatility. 

Peterson has made a rapid ascent in the discus in his first full season of competition. He came out for the team a year ago and got in two three competitions before the season was cancelled due to Covid. He went from a PR of 97-6 in the event last year to 127-9 this season, meaning he’s made a 30-foot improvement in just over a year, a remarkable achievement. Peterson also played tight end on the football team this past season. 

“It’s been an awesome experience being on the track and field team,” he said. “It’s another sport I fell in love with. You’re competing with yourself, and that’s what I love about it. I came out last year because everyone was talking about a 12-pound ball and a discus, and I was like, ‘OK, let’s see how far I can throw it.’ I came out for my friends, girlfriend and to challenge myself. I had no idea what I was doing at first, but I was still throwing it pretty far. Coach was telling me I had some good marks for me just starting out in the sport.”

Peterson has found his form, which he hopes will result in another PR at CCS. Fellow field event standout Frank Hernandez won the shot put with a PR of 48-10, the fourth best mark in the section. Felice continued to show her strength in winning the 400, her fifth victory in the event out of seven meets this season. Felice got off the blocks strong and came off the final turn with the lead and never relinquished it. 

“This one felt good,” she said. “I like to get off the blocks and power through the first 100 meters and find my pace all the way to the 300. And then at 300 meters, that’s when you turn it on and you have to empty out whatever you have left in you. I still think I can get somewhere in the 61s by the end of the season.”

Like some of her teammates, Felice has come on strong in a short amount of time. This is her first full season of competition after coming out for the team last year. The first time she ran a 400, Felice knew this was her event. 

“Everybody hates it, but I love it,” said Felice, who teamed with Ellie Miller, Gabriella Romero and Mia Villegas to win the 4×400 relay. “I love feeling the pain at the end.”

Zach Sims was part of the victorious 4×400 relay team and won the long jump in the PCAL Masters Meet on May 27. Photo by Juan Reyes.
Giavanna Felice was part of the San Benito girls 4×400 relay team that won at the PCAL Central Coast Section Qualifier Meet on May 27. Felice also won the 400-meter event. Photo by Juan Reyes.