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Pepic accomplished much in 2 years but hasnt run his best race
Best of the Going the distance


• Juan Gomez, Manteca junior: An all-league performer for the reigning four-time VOL champion Buffaloes, Gomez was at his best in the SJS subsection meet where he was 21st in 17:42 among Division III competitors.

• Brett Kovacs, Manteca junior: Manteca High’s heir apparent to Runner of the Year Mahir Pepic, Kovacs was the area’s top male in the SJS meet — barely — as he took 21st in 17:45.

• Tomas Huerta, Weston Ranch sophomore: The future looks bright for the Cougars, who were paced by Huerta’s 23rd-place finish (17:49) at sections.

• Alex Norling, Ripon senior: The Manteca area’s second best runner was 13th with a solid time of 17:30 in the SJS Division IV subsections, but like Pepic he ended up scratching out of the state qualifier.

• Anthony Sequeira, Sierra junior: Did not make all-league but outraced some who did in the section meets; finished strong in SJS finals with 29th-place finish and time of 17:56.

• Garret Stone, Sierra junior: Though nipped by Kovacs at the finish line in the end of the SJS Division III race, Stone established himself as one of the area’s top returners for 2015.

— Jonamar Jacinto

Mahir Pepic may never know just how good he can be.

Not after the heartbreaking way that his season ended and an uncertain future.

This much is certain: the Manteca High senior was far and away the best at what he does this past fall. Pepic is the Manteca Bulletin’s Cross Country Male Runner of the Year.

While there is still the track season in the spring, Pepic is undecided if he wants to continue building on his vast potential as a distance runner at the next level, saying that schoolwork will be the priority.

“I can’t say that I’ve completely pushed myself to the limit yet,” Pepic said.

In a way, he did do that in the Sac-Joaquin Section Finals at Willow Hill Reservoir in Folsom, but he admittedly wasn’t at his peak mentally and physically. Shortly after the mile mark, Pepic took a wrong turn on the course. It cost him mere seconds and knocked him a few places from the lead pack, but it did enough to hurt him at the end.

“I knew I had to work harder and I like challenges,” Pepic said, “but thinking back it may have gotten me a little nervous. I wasn’t breathing right after that and then started feeling this weird soreness, this pain in my legs.”

Then, with the finish line and a coveted spot in the CIF State Championships in sight, the unthinkable happened. With about a half mile to go he felt his legs go out from under him. And with a quarter mile to go he collapsed.

Pepic didn’t finish the race and it wasn’t until he awoke from an unconscious state that the realization set in.

“I woke up with EMTs around me,” Pepic said. “I don’t know what it was. They said it may have been low sodium or not enough oxygen.”

Naturally, he was devastated. He won the Valley Oak League’s individual title and placed third in the SJS Division III Subsection Meet without a hard kick at the end of each race, intending to preserve his energy for bigger events to come. Pepic was figured to be a shoo-in to advance to state. 

“It was disappointing,” he said. “I cried. I was really upset. It’s what I’ve been setting up for all year. I wanted to see what I can do at the state level and see how far I can go. I’ll never know.”

In the month-plus since, he’s able to look at it as a life lesson and added incentive for the track season.

Despite the disappointing finish there is no denying all that he had accomplished. He won the Jaguar Invitational while setting a course record of 17 minutes, 21.53 seconds at Eagal Lakes Resort in Tracy. He also placed second in the Bret Harte Frogtown Invitational.

His greatest achievement, he said, is leading Manteca to its fourth straight VOL boys title.

“I love my team,” Pepic said. “We’re so close; I consider them my best friends. Even though I haven’t known them for that long we bonded so fast.”

Amazingly, Pepic completed just his second year of cross country as a senior. His main sports used to be soccer and basketball, and he didn’t begin to run competitively until doing so for the track team as a sophomore.

“I kind of wish I started running my freshman year,” Pepic said. “(Rick) Cuevas is a great coach and he contributed a lot to my success, but I wish I did more. Last year I was injured most of the time so it wasn’t even in full season. I wasn’t in good condition by the end of the season.

“It wasn’t until my junior year that I switched to running full-time. I just really decided to focus and get real good at it.”

That he did. But how good, he may never know.