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VOL titles in sight for MHS
VOL Cross Country pic 2
Sierra High standout Josh Spooner won his second Valley Oak League race of the season Wednesday at Tracys Eagal Lakes Resort. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

TRACY — Injuries continue to slow Manteca High’s cross country team, but not enough to keep the Buffaloes from widening their leads in the Valley Oak League standings.

With freshman phenom Lejla Pepic (foot) is on the mend, the varsity girls edged their closest rival, Sierra, by a 26-29 score. At the Calaveras County Fair grounds on Sept. 18, the Lady Buffs won more decisively, 19-38.

“We dodged a bullet today,” Manteca coach Rick Cuevas said. “We really missed Lejla.”

Cuevas said Pepic will resume running this weekend and should be ready for the VOL finale set for Oct. 29 at Legion Park in Modesto.

Manteca’s varsity boys also remained undefeated by besting fellow defending co-champ Sierra, 24-33. Senior Luis Ayala is out for the year with an ankle injury, but other Buffaloes working through various ailments are rounding into shape.

“We have guys like Trevor Crippen and Mahir Pepic coming around, so I knew we’d be OK with the boys,” Cuevas said. “We were more vulnerable last time.”

Sierra had the two top individuals, with senior standout Josh Spooner leading the boys in 16 minutes, 46 seconds. Haley Silva was the fastest girls runner in 20:13, edging Kimball’s Francesca Loayza by 8 seconds. Loayza took first in the league opener.

Manteca was able to squeeze in more top-10 finishers in both races. For the girls, two-time All-Area Girls Runner of the Year Harleen Pabla (20:31) placed third overall and appears to be rounding into form after undergoing lung surgery in the offseason. Teammate Emma Holbrook took fourth (21:06), and Blake Lamoreax (22:05) was seventh.

Fattima Momini (21:46) and promising freshman Iris Carillo (22:18) led Weston Ranch with fifth- and eighth-place finishes, respectively. Kyndall Riley (ninth, 22:22) of Sierra and Sierra Downum (10th, 22:34) rounded out the top 10.

Brandon Galan was again Manteca’s top male finisher, as he took third in 17:23. Manteca’s five scorers all finished in the top 12. Following Galan were Marcus Avila (fifth, 17:46), Brett Kovacs (sixth, 17:47), Mahur Pepic (ninth, 18:00) and Hector Patron (12th, 18:29).

Weston Ranch’s Brendon Curtright (17:56) outkicked Sierra’s Garet Stone (17:59) in the end for seventh place. Brandon Rogers and Aaron Mackey finished 10th and 11th overall.

“Sierra has a great team,” Cuevas said. “Last year they beat us in the VOL finals and we had to share the championship. Anything can happen in the end, so we’re going to try and train hard for it.”

Lower levels

Oakdale’s junior varsity girls drew even with Manteca 28-all but took the meet by winning the tiebreaker. Sierra’s Ashley Elliott placed first.

Nicholas Curtright (first) , Alex Araquel (second), Nickolas Rahawi, Jimmy Sekhon and Kevin Miranda occupied five of the first six overall spots as Weston Ranch’s frosh-soph boys padded their lead. Fellow Cougar Vanessa Vega was the top individual in frosh-soph girls, but Oakdale is in the lead for the team champion.