Pacific-bound senior Haley Silva and Ellie Waters are heading back to the CIF State Cross Country Championships in two weeks.
They’ll be joined by the Ripon Christian girls team and Weston Ranch sophomore sensation Iris Carillo in Fresno after all earned qualifying bids in the Sac-Joaquin Section Championships this past Saturday at the Willow Hill Reservoir in Folsom. State spots were available to only the top two teams and a maximum of five individuals in Divisions III-V. Those five individuals could finish no worse than 14h overall in Division III, and 12th in IV and V in order to advance.
Silva secured her second straight state berth with a third-place finish at 19 minutes, 30 seconds in the Division III race. She was able to top Valley Oak League rival Carillo (fourth, 19:36), who edged Silva in winning both the SJS Subsection and league meets.
“We haven’t really talked about it but it can go unsaid,” Sierra coach Mike Rosendin said of Silva’s recent duels with Carillo. “Haley is competitive, that’s her thing. She’s just a competitive person overall and running is her outlet for that, so when it comes to somebody from our area going after her she’s going to respond. It was a good race on both their parts.”
It was overall a big day for Sierra. Its VOL champion girls squad took fifth with 121 points and nearly had another individual qualifier in junior Jessa Johnson, who came in 13th in 20:34. Liberty Ranch’s Courtney Robinson (12th, 20:31) nipped her at the end to grab the final state spot in Division III.
Garret Stone (22nd, 17:45) led the Sierra boys to a respectable sixth-place finish with 168 points.
“I was real pleased,” Rosendin said. “The kids competed really well today. Everybody was engaged and really gave a great effort for themselves and the team.”
He is also encouraged by the future prospects of the program, which graduates just two seniors on each varsity squad.
“We’re set up well on both teams,” Rosendin said. “We told them we wanted to come back here and compete next year. There are a few teams that are between us and where we really want to be. We can make strides toward those teams in the next year after showing a lot of growth this season.”
Other notables in the Division III boys race were Manteca’s Brett Kovacs (21st, 17:45) and Weston Ranch’s Tomas Huerta (23rd, 17:49).
The most notable male runner from the Manteca area was unable to finish his race. After cruising to a third-place finish at the subsection meet, Manteca High’s Mahir Pepic had a disappointing end to an otherwise stellar senior campaign.
Pepic stuck with the lead pack for the opening mile despite its brisk pace, but somewhere during the second third of the race the Buffalo momentarily ran off course. Parents and coaches guided him back to the right direction, but by that point the damage was done.
“It was as if he was running uphill from that point to the end,” Manteca coach Rick Cuevas said. “He was trying super hard just to catch up to the No. 2 guy and then he started to complain that he was hurting.”
While Pepic did well catch the frontrunners following his misstep, he couldn’t keep up on the end. With nearly a half a mile remaining his legs became more wobbly with each stride until he finally collapsed. He was in ninth place at that point, and what would have been his first and only state berth was well within sight.
“Mahir was devastated,” Cuevas said. “I feel so bad for him, but I also feel that he will bounce back from this. We’ll see what he can do in track, because he has a lot to look forward to in the 800 and the mile.”
The four-time defending VOL champion Buffaloes as a whole came up short of expectations. At the start of the season, Cuevas touted his boys team as a contending state qualifier. Manteca placed seventh (176 points) behind league foe Sierra, while Weston Ranch (209) was ninth in the 10-team race. Manteca took third at subsections.
The Manteca girls contingent finished ninth (246).
“Hopefully today serves as a lesson, because they have potential to be section champions next year. But it’s up to them,” said Cuevas who has two seniors on the boys team, one being Pepic.
Waters, a junior, will be making her third trip to Fresno’s Woodward Park for the state event. She took sixth in the Division IV race, clocking in at 19:53. Freshman teammate Kayla Jacklich was 18th in 21:29, as Ripon placed eighth (162) as a team.
The Ripon Christian girls outpointed Western Sierra 77-80 for the second state-qualifying spot in Division V. Freshman Alysia Templeman (11th, 23:28), Courtney Bloemhof (14th, 23:56) and Kayla Gerdes (19th, 24:21) had top-20 finishes for the Lady Knights.
The state championships takes place Saturday, Nov. 29.
Sierra’s sophomore boys finished third in Division III with Trevor Ryan (fifth, 12:09) and Arish Bala (ninth, 12:22) each earning medals. Juan Diaz of Lathrop took fourth in 12:07.
Lathrop’s Miguel Salcedo was the runner-up (12:21) in the Division III freshman race. Manteca’s Epifanio Estrada was fourth (12:27), and East Union as a team came in fourth. Ripon’s freshman boys placed third in Division IV.
Manteca’s Natalia Duran (14:44) and Lathrop’s Crystal Baltazar (14:45) took seventh and eighth, respectively, to medal in frosh-soph Division III girls. Liz Herbert of Ripon Christian was fifth (17:30) in frosh-soph Division V.