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Buffaloes stampede way to lead at all levels in VOL opener
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Rick Cuevas has coached cross country for a long time in the Manteca area.

But what he saw out of his Manteca High program during Wednesday’s Valley Oak League opening cluster meet was an eye-opener.

The Buffaloes left Tuolumne Legion Park in Modesto as the conference leaders at all levels — varsity boys and girls, junior varsity boys and girls, sophomore boys and girls. As far as he knows, no VOL school has ever swept the championships.

“I’m overwhelmed,” he said.

His defending champion varsity boys squad outpointed runner-up Sierra, 23-35. Sonora standout Steven Grolle was the overall first-place individual in 16 minutes, 42 seconds, with Sierra’s Josh Spooner (17:25) taking second.

Manteca got a huge lift from Martin Ponce (17:47) and Seayer Zadran (17:55), who finished third and fourth, respectively. Marcus Avila (18:15), Trevor Crippen (18:18) and Brandon Galan (18:20) went 7-8-9 overall. Other notables were Weston Ranch’s Brendon Curtright (fifth, 18:01) and Sierra’s Thomas Trzcinski (sixth, 18:03).

Manteca entered the meet as the team to beat but seemed unfazed with the pressure.

“They responded very well,” Cuevas said. “My No. 1 and No. 2 ended up being my No. 5 and 6, but we knew what was going to happen (no matter who the team’s lead runners were). We trained right for this.”

Sonora also had the top finisher at varsity girls, with Samantha Smith timing in at 20:09. Manteca’s Harleen Pabla, the area’s lone female qualifier for the state meet in 2011, placed second (20:42).

Manteca beat the reigning girls titlist from Sierra head-to-head, 21-36. Esmeralda Cuenca (fourth overall, 21:16), Doan Bien (sixth, 21:36), Claudia Aguilar (10th, 22:29) also cracked the top 10 for the Lady Buffs. Joining them were Sierra’s Haley Silva (fifth, 21:24) and Patricia Angel (22:06), Weston Ranch’s Fattima Momini (22:13) and Claudia Arevalo (ninth, 22:21).

“Last year we had two (standout) girls, now we have four girls who are pretty awesome,” Cuevas said. “We were (concerned) with Sierra, they are the defending champions. If we can get a couple others to step up a little more we’ll be right there for (a state berth).

In the lower-level races, Manteca defeated Sierra 20-35 in JV boys (Manteca’s Brian Balcita was the individual winner), Manteca blew out Oakdale 15-50 in JV girls (Andrea Hernandez, Manteca), Manteca outlasted Sierra 21-63 in sophomore boys (Jose Mejia, Manteca), and the Buffaloes’ sophomore girls edged out Kimball (Ariana Avina, Manteca).