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Buffaloes embrace support role at state meet
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Manteca High coach Rick Cuevas works the starting gate at last weekends state cross country meet in Fresno, talking it up with his own runner, Harleen Pabla, and Mimi Eckhardt of Santa Cruz. - photo by VINCE REMBULAT

Bob Rush was pleased with his finish chute crew at last weekend’s California Interscholastic Federation State Cross Country Championships in Fresno.

In this case, the legendary coach from the College of San Mateo praised members of the Manteca High cross country program.

They were assigned the duty of assisting runners as they crossed the finishing line, making sure their corresponding computerized chip – one was attached to each shoe for the electronic timer – was removed properly and assorted in a timely manner.

“The old coach usually doesn’t give compliments,” said Buffaloes coach Rick Cuevas of Rush. “He’s usually hard to please.”

Not this time.

Members of his cross country program had been asked to help out at this year’s state event held once again at Woodward Park.

Included was his boys’ varsity squad fresh off its first Valley Oak League crown in 24 years. Key members of that group – namely, Philip Herrera, Isaiah Cruz and Matthew Quiroga – embraced their supporting role.

They were joined by Buffalo teammates Luis Ayala, Uriel Torres, Claudia Aguilar, Diana Zambrano, Crystal Ramirez, and Sophie Barragan, to name a few.

After all, they were there to root on Harleen Pabla, who was the first MHS girl to qualify for the state meet in 14 years, according to Cuevas.

“We were invited to help out (at the state meet),” he said.

Youngsters were initially shocked to see the pains and sufferings of runners in the aftermath of the grueling 5,000-meter course.

“That was the first time they saw runners passing out (after crossing the finishing line) or throwing up,” Cuevas said. “Many of our kids are running cross country for the first time.”

Included was Pabla, who was 84th (19 minutes, 52 seconds) among a field of nearly 200 runners in Division III. Up until a year ago, she was primarily a soccer player.

Meanwhile, her teammates were responsible for handling some 2,000 runners from throughout the state competing in boys and girls events, from Division I through V.

The finish chute – or finish corral – was composed of mats that included sensors. Runners were instructed to run across all of the mats and continue on some 10 feet beyond the last mat where they were greeted by two flag-waving officials.

Those who stopped or walked were physically removed or assisted from this zone.

That’s where Cuevas and his crew came in.

The data collected from the computer chips helped make possible the posting for the results of each race.

“Each chip had to be organized in the proper drop boxes,” said Cuevas, who was also proud of the efforts by members of his cross country program.

He added that his young group also received recognition from meet director Dustin Marzolf.

“Our kids worked so hard that they were asked back,” said Cuevas, who previously coached at East Union and Weston Ranch before taking over the program at MHS this year.

As for his youngsters, they have goal of returning to the state meet.

Cuevas said they’re hoping do so as participants.