TRACY — Mahir Pepic and Haley Silva won the varsity boys and girls races without much of a challenge in the second Valley Oak League cluster meet Tuesday at Eagal Lakes.
They are the established favorites to capture individual titles in the league finale Oct. 29 at Frogtown (Calaveras County Fairgrounds), and they appear to be on their way to earning championships with their respective teams.
Manteca High’s boys squad has its fourth straight crown in sight after topping its chief rival Sierra, 20-35. On the girls side, Sierra toppled defending champion Manteca 24-31 to put itself in the driver’s seat. The Timberwolves seek their first girls title since 2011 and are chasing the program’s eighth overall.
The Manteca boys and Sierra girls are similar in that they have strong packs of runners backing their aces. Pepic coasted through the finish line in 17 minutes, 8 seconds with Oakdale’s Isaiah Aguilar (17:43) and Kimball’s Anthony Hudson (17:59) following suit. The Manteca tandem of Brandon Craighead (18:11) and Brett Kovacs (18:15) rounded out the top five.
“Trevor (Crippen) and Brett have been injured,” Manteca coach Rick Cuevas said. “Brett really came back strong after training for only a week.”
Pepic has yet to lose a race this season. He won the VOL opener at Modesto’s Legion Park on Sept. 17 and garnered individual titles in the Jaguar and Frogtown invitationals. Cuevas said his standout will soon dial it down some as he gears up for the postseason races.
“Over the summer I told him that if he trains hard we could go for the section title,” Cuevas said. “He’s doing well but he’s running on tired legs right now.
Other notables from the Manteca area in the boys race were Tomas Huerta (Weston Ranch), Anthony Sequeira (Sierra), Juan Gomez (Manteca), Gustavo Hurtado (East Union) and Nicholas Curtright (Weston Ranch), who finished 6-10 in that order. The two Weston Ranch runners are the only underclassmen to place in the top 10 overall. The Cougars were narrowly outpointed by Sierra 27-28 and lost to Manteca 19-36. They beat out East Union 24-31 to place third in the meet.
Silva (20:22) and Weston Ranch’s Iris Carillo (20:44) again went 1-2 in the girls competition. Emma Holbrook (21:00) was third for Manteca after missing the league opener with an injury. Her return helped the Buffaloes close the gap in scoring after they were beaten more handily 19-43 in the first meet.
Ariana Avina (22:19) of Manteca placed fourth, but Sierra was able to keep its score low with Candice Lao (22:40), Jessa Johnson (22:53) and Diana Cruz (22:57) taking up the 5-7 spots.
“We have eight girls who are very competitive in league right now,” Sierra coach Mike Rosendin said. “They’re putting in the work and gaining a lot of confidence in themselves and it’s showing in races. Even when they’re not feeling 100 percent they’re running strong, and that was the case today.”
Lathrop’s Marisol Baltazar, East Union freshman Kelley Higginson and Manteca’s Natalia Duran made up the rest of the top 10. East Union finished third as a team, losing to Sierra 16-29 and Manteca, 24-31.
Blake Lamoreax dominated the junior varsity girls race to help put Manteca in a good spot to win a league title. Teammates Lorena Hernandez and Sarah Vegas finished second and third, respectively.
East Union outpointed Oakdale 25-30 to win JV boys behind first-place Joey Mascarelli.
Sierra’s Arish Bala finished second overall in frosh-soph boys, as the Timberwolves beat runner-up Kimball, 25-30.
Sierra’s frosh-soph girls edged out Oakdale 27-28 behind individual runner-up Destinee Perales. Crystal Baltazar of Lathrop won the race.