There is no leader of this pack.
It’s what makes this year’s Sierra boys cross country team special, says Garet Stone, one of its two seniors. Today, the Timberwolves will compete in the 29th CIF State Championships at Fresno’s Woodward Park, marking the first time in 14 years for a Sierra contingent to do so. Joining them are Weston Ranch’s Iris Carrillo, Tomas Huerta and Alec Araquel.
Sierra has had a handful of individual standouts since, most notably 2004 Sac-Joaquin Section Division II champ Jimmy Elam. Sierra claimed the first of its three section titles in 1995 (Division IV) and the latest came in 2001 (Division III). Spearheaded by David Ulibarri and Corey Duquette, the Division III champion 1998 team is its finest. Ulibarri took first in the section and was the state’s D3 runner-up that year, and in 1999 Duquette finished sixth at the state meet.
Unlike Sierra teams of years past, there are no stars hovering above the rest for these 2015 T’wolves. They have only one All-Valley Oak League runner in Trevor Ryan, but their top six runners placed among the top 18.
“We have a pretty good thing going,” Stone said during practice after school Wednesday. “This year’s team has a lot of people running right next to each other. It’s good because if one of our seniors has a bad day somebody else comes through and takes that spot for the team.”
Stone was Sierra’s top dog in the first two VOL cluster meets and the SJS sub-section event, but Arish Bala stepped up to take 13th in the section finals and led the Timberwolves’ second-place finish.
“It has taken all year to find out who our top seven are and we’ve had four different people who have been our No. 1 runner at some point,” Sierra coach Mike Rosendin said. “We’ve run well but I still don’t think we’ve run our best. We’re trying to get all those guys to put it together on the same day.”
If that doesn’t happen today they’ll have time to work toward that goal in the future. Anthony Sequiera and Stone are the lone seniors, with Bala and Ryan heading the junior class. Newcomer Isaias Ghezae is only a sophomore, and freshmen Jesse Hurtado and Sabas Montes have solidified the seven-man roster. Hurtado ran his first 3.1-mile race in the sub-section meet at Frogtown and ended up as Sierra’s second fastest finisher.
Even with the program’s top three underclassmen competing at the varsity level, the sophomore team was able to earn the SJS Division IV championship.
“I like that fact that we’re young,” Rosendin said. “Over the summer we knew these guys were going to put some pressure on people in front of them. The influence of our youngsters this year has been real good for us.”
Rosendin hasn’t placed any gaudy expectations for his team’s run at the state meet, and Stone looks most forward to “racing against some of the best people in the state.” Both realize this to be an important experience for the young pups of the group, so expectations for future seasons may be higher.
“Every team we beat is an accomplishment,” Rosendin said. “We’re not putting a huge amount of pressure on them that they have to place at a certain level, just try to run your best race and learn from the competition. We want to come back to this race and be competitive with these teams, so you have got to out there and experience it.”
Weston Ranch’s Carrillo is the area’s lone returner to the state meet. She’ll look to improve her impressive time of 18 minutes, 58 seconds from her breakthrough sophomore campaign. She placed 26th and only 27 of the 189 competitors in Division III clocked sub-19-minute times.
The two-time VOL champion is coming off a fourth-place finish in the SJS Division IV finals, and she established a new personal record at the Willow Hill Course in Folsom in 19:03.
Huerta and Araquel are first-time state qualifiers after they took fourth and fifth, respectively, at the section meet. Huerta is the VOL champion and top placer in the sub-section Division IV race.