The varsity girls team goes down the turnaround during their race Monday afternoon at San Benito High.

Cross country teams unveiled its new course behind Andy Hardin
Stadium on Monday

When the San Benito High cross country team competed at Park Hill in Hollister the past several years, it was quite clear what everyone involved was getting into.

The trail course was perhaps the definition of “hilly,” while the loose dirt on the ground immediately transformed into dust in the air once 15 harriers labored across its dark terrain.

One harrier, former Lady Baler Courtney Allen, even went as far to say that she hated running on the course following a home meet last year.

With scorching temperatures always in play when the Balers held home meets, and some visiting opponents even getting lost while racing, Park Hill rightfully earned its reputation as the most difficult course to run in the Tri-County Athletic League.

But while Park Hill still offers sweeping views of downtown Hollister, its tag as San Benito’s home course is no more — perhaps much to the delight of each member school in the TCAL.

During a home meet against Salinas on Monday, San Benito debuted its new cross country course located on the high school’s campus. Positioned directly behind Andy Hardin Stadium, the 3.1-mile circular trail is being called by some as the “river” course, as it treks alongside the dried up San Benito River bed.

Head coach Jess Morales, realizing the distance from SBHS to Park Hill, worked with Athletic Director Tod Thatcher to bring San Benito’s home course back on to high school grounds.

“I told [Thatcher] it’d be nice to bring it back to the high school, and he really went out of his way to make it happen,” Morales said. “The reason why we had it done was because it’s more of a spectator course. Kids from the school can come and watch if they want.”

A sizable crowd was on-hand Monday to watch the San Benito-Salinas dual meet — the Lady Balers won 21-40, while Salinas edged the Baler boys 20-37 — and Morales said he received several compliments regarding the new home venue.

The mostly flat terrain on the river course allows spectators to view most of the race from a distance, while the course itself concludes on the track at Andy Hardin Stadium, allowing finish-line fans to access the grandstand.

With restrooms available as well, Morales said they may even operate the nearby snack bar for larger events. The head coach recently filed paperwork with the Central Coast Section to host the Earthquake Invitational at some point in mid-September 2010.

The high school is awaiting permission from the CCS.

“I’d like to have members of the community run it for exercise,” Morales said.

The course is mostly made up of compacted dirt, although includes approximately 400 meters of pavement, Morales said. As the runners near the river bed, the terrain changes to a rockier soil with loose sand and gravel.

Morales had water trucks from the John Smith Landfill in Hollister wet the course and compact it, which has supplied the river course with a cleaner and smoother feel.

But while Park Hill was noticeably demanding, the San Benito river course — relatively flat with smaller hills — may just be painfully deceiving.

“The course is tough,” said senior Lady Baler Rachel Shimabukuro, who recorded a 20:28 on Monday to take first place against Salinas. “I definitely underestimated it.”

Although the Balers practice on the river course, Shimabukuro said the course’s apparent ease can often lead itself to faster starts. Furthermore, runners complete two laps of the circular trail before finishing inside Andy Hardin Stadium, two laps that perhaps make the course feel that much longer.

“If you take it out hard, it will get you after the first loop,” Morales said. “The way they took it out [on Monday], they weren’t sure what to do. The course is deceiving.

“I asked guys from Salinas and it wasn’t what they thought. You run hard and you hit those little hills, so you have to start all over again.”

Whether the river course will be just as taxing as Park Hill remains to be seen. But for what San Benito’s new home turf lacks in hills and dust and heat — to the delight of the Balers themselves, of course — it may just make up for it with deception.

At the river course, it’s not exactly clear what those involved are getting into.

“It was tougher than I thought,” said junior Jose Castillo, who finished third Monday with a 17:15. “It’s flat, but it gets you on that last mile.”


San Benito will host Palma, Notre Dame and North Salinas on Monday at 3:30 p.m.

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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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