From right to left: The Balers' Marisa Villegas, Amy Quinones, Gabby Alvarez, Samantha Cortez and Brianna Martin start the 1600-meter race in a April 9 home meet vs. Notre Dame-Salinas.

As Marisa Villegas neared the finish line, she turned around and said, “Go, go!” Villegas’ teammate, Amy Quinones, was right behind her, clocking in a season-best time of 5 minutes, 22.38 seconds in the 1600-meter run race.
The two then shared a hug for a solid four minutes, the emotion of the moment evident on their faces. The April 9 track and field meet had special significance for two reasons—it was Quinones’ final home meet in her storied career, and her time qualified her for the prestigious Central Coast Section Top 8 Classic on Friday.
Villegas, a sophomore, and Quinones, a senior, have pushed each other ever since they met last year when Villegas arrived as a precocious freshman trying out for the track team. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
So it’s no wonder the two showed much more emotion than they usually do after a standard league meet. From the start of the race, Quinones and Villegas separated themselves from the rest of the pack, before Quinones settled in comfortably on the inside of lane one and Villegas tucked right by her side.
The two paced each other for the better part of 1300 meters before Villegas surged ever so slightly ahead. Both runners finished strong, and Quinones credited her teammate and coaches for giving her the support she needed.
“It was a lot of Marisa pushing me and getting support from my coaches to stay mentally strong that I was able to get the time I did,” Quinones said. “On Wednesday I was told I was a second off of qualifying for the Top 8 Meet, so after that I realized I had to take this race really seriously.”
Said Villegas: “I told Amy before the meet we were going to get her the qualifying time. Her getting the time, and then realizing it was her final home meet on top of that, I guess all that emotion was wrapped up and came out.”
It was only appropriate Villegas pushed Quinones to the finish, because the two have been helping each other set personal-records (PRs) for the last two years. Villegas, who is also a volleyball and soccer standout, is a relative newcomer to the running scene.
Villegas knew she had speed growing up, but her focus was on the ball sports, not running. However, once Villegas came out for the track team last year, she realized running could be in her future.
Not surprisingly, Quinones and Villegas have had solid seasons. Quinones recently posted two PRs at the Stanford Invitational: a career-best 2:18.52 in the 800 (10th best time in CCS) and a 5-foot-4 mark in the high jump, which ties her with four others for the fifth best mark in the section.
Villegas has also posted some PRs this season, including the 400 (59.28) and 800 (2:19.09).
Although both athletes are running the 1600 a couple of seconds slower at this same time a year ago, they’re confident they’ll hit their stride when it counts the most—at the end of the season just in time for the CCS Championships.
If Villegas can peak in the 1600, she’ll likely be state-bound. Last year Villegas ran a blistering 4:58.96 to finish fifth in the CCS Finals, barely missing out on state (she needed to finish either third or hit 4:55 to qualify on time).
“It’s been a good season overall,” Villegas said. “It was a bit tough to get back into things off of soccer season, but I think I’m getting back into rhythm. I’m going to get ready for the Top 8 and hopefully PR there, and then get ready for league and CCS.”
Quinones has been happy with her performances this season, especially in the 800. Both runners are part of the San Benito 4×400-relay team, which currently has the fifth fastest time in the section this season.
Villegas also has the sixth best mark in the 800, at 2:17.17. Quinones recently signed her letter of intent to run cross country and track at Sacramento State.
It’s a tremendous reward for Quinones, who followed in the footsteps of one of the school’s all-time best runners in Vanessa Estrada, who is now competing at San Diego State University.
The handoff was a seamless one, as Quinones won back-to-back individual league cross-country titles along with leading the Balers to a pair of team titles. Now, the baton will get passed on again, with Quinones handing things off to Villegas, who seemingly has everything it takes to make it to state in the 1600.
Quinones and Villegas can’t believe their run together is nearing an end—the preliminaries to the CCS Finals start May 23—so they intend to cherish every moment they have together until the finish.
The two didn’t know each other until Villegas’ freshman year, when she came out for track tryouts. Now, they’re almost inseparable, especially on the track.
“We instantly connected and now it seems like I’ve known her forever,” Quinones said. “She’s like my sister.”
Said Villegas: “It feels like I’ve known Amy my whole life, and she’s definitely one of my best friends. Other than the coaches, she was the one person who I could turn to, ask questions and get answers because I was new to running. I definitely don’t know where I would be today without her.”

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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