Few would dispute that Friday's Metro Conference cross country championship meet did not deliver up its collection of great races, especially in a year brimming with talented teams and talented runners who will measure their level of greatness with a possible trip to the state championship meet.
The boys varsity race obviously set the tone for the day as the Bonita Vista Barons and Otay Ranch Mustangs ran to a 29-29 stalemate on the Rohr Park 5K course. The Barons captured the tiebreaker based on the finish of the teams' sixth runner, and even that was close as Bonita Vista junior Jacob Sherman finished 12th in the field of 41 Mesa League harriers and Otay Ranch senior Aldo Moreno finished 13th.
"I knew it was close," said BVHS coach Ed Winczowksi, whose team cemented this year's Mesa League title after previously recording a dramatic come-frrom-behind 25-30 dual meet victory over the Mustangs on Oct. 6. "I saw Jacob and Austin (Johnson, 11th in 17:26) pass one of their guys towards the finish but I didn't know if it was their No. 5 or No. 6."
With runners from the entire conference competing in one race (South Bay League harriers were scored separately), it was easy for spectators to lose count as a blur of multi-colored uniforms whirred past.
By the second mile, the elite runners had separated themselves from the rest of the pack. They included Otay Ranch senior Steven Martinez, the overall conference winner and Mesa League champion in 15:41; Sweetwater junior George Martinez, the South Bay League champion in 16:01; Bonita Vista senior Caesar Castillo, the Mesa League runner-up in 16:02; Castle Park junior Miguel Lopez, the South Bay League runner-up in 16:18; and Otay Ranch senior Zach Velasquez, the third-place Mesa League finisher in 16:19.
The race was on from there in both leagues.
Bonita Vista senior Jose Suarez was fourth in the Mesa League race in 16:37, followed by classmate Alejandro Dominguez in fifth place in 16:56. Otay Ranch junior Rodrigo Baza followed in sixth place in 17:03.
With three runners across the finish line for both teams, the Mustangs held a narrow 10-11 early scoring edge.
It looked as if the latter scorers for both teams would decide the league title, as had been the case in the teams' celebrated dual meet a month earlier.
Senior Kevin Yen was fourth for the Barons (seventh in league) in 17:06, followed by Eastlake junior Zac Zasueta (eighth in league) in 17:07 to help break up the Otay Ranch championship scoring potential as two Mustangs followed: seniors Anthony McGough (ninth in league) in 17:09 and Andres Fernandez (10th in league) in 17:22.
Two Bonita Vista runners trailed: Johnson and Sherman.
Johnson was the Barons' fifth scorer. Otay Ranch placed all five of its scorers in front of Bonita Vista's No. 5. But the order of finish failed to produce a clear-cut winner.
The Mustangs went 1-3-6-9-10 for 29 points.
The Barons went 2-4-5-7-11 for 29 points.
That meant the No. 6 would decide which team won the tie-breaker. That was Sherman for Bonita Vista.
Sherman (17:29) edged Moreno (17:33) by four seconds. Otay Ranch sophomore Steven Liu was 15th in 17:50, trailing Eastlake sophomore Oliver Abundez in 16th place in 17:46.
"I had no idea which position I was in -- I knew I had to just beat their guy," Sherman said. "I passed him at the two-mile mark and I just kept running. I knew I had to keep running if we were gonig to win (as a team)."
Sherman said he was oblivious to the cheering crowd lining the straightaway barriers. "I was dead tired at that point -- I couldn't hear anything," he said. "I just kept running. I didn't know if he was their No. 5 or No. 6."
It turned out to be the Mustangs' No. 6.
Eastlake finished third with 81 team points, followed by Hilltop (fourth) with 129 points, Olympian (fifth) with 139 points and Mater Dei Catholic (sixth) with 151 points.
Otay Ranch finished with five top 10 finishers, Bonita Vista with four and Eastlake with one to comprise the all-league first team.
Understandably, Mustang coach Ian Cumming had mixed emotions over the outcome but did not hesitate to heap praise on the Barons' effort.
"These two teams should be proud of themselves," he underscored. "It was a very, very good race. You can't get any closer than that. We ran a hard-fought race and Bonita can be proud of their effort. After losing the dual meet, we came back determined to beat them the next time and raced our hearts out, and they beat us on the sixth man. I'm proud of both teams' efforts today."
Martinez captured the league title by a whopping 21 seconds.
"My plan was to go out hard the first mile and if anyone was near to me that I'd keep going," he said. "If I was by myself, I'd keep on the pace until the second mile, then put it in cruise control the last mile."
Which is essentially what happened as SuHi's Martinez finished 20 seconds behind in the combined conference field.
Red-hot Red Devils
Sweetwater appears headed for a possible top five finish at the upcoming San Diego Section Division I finals, and could be right there with the Mustangs when state berths -- team or individual -- are awarded at Morley Field on Nov. 19.
The Red Devils out-pointed runner-up Castle Park, 23-41, to capture undisputed rights to this year’s South Bay League championship after previously downing the Trojans in a head-to-head dual on Oct. 7.
Sweetwater went 1-3-4-5-10 in team scoring to secure five all-league positions. Following Martinez across the finish line were teammates Gerrardo Marquillo (third, 16:48), Abinadi Castellanos (fourth, 17:07), Carlos Ponce (fifth, 17:10) and Bryan Alvarado (10th, 17:31).
Castle Park, which went 2-7-8-9-15 in team scoring, finished with four all-league runners: Miguel Lopez (second, 16:18), Rodrigo Paredes (seventh, 17:23), Daniel Vazquez (eighth, 17:26), Jesus Ortiz (ninth, 17:30) and Jon Patron (15th, 18:00).
Chula Vista junior Fernando Romero finished sixth among individuals in 17:17 to lead the Spartans to a third-place team finish with 60 points.
Montgomery finished fourth with 132 points, followed by Mar Vista (fifth) with 154 points, San Ysidro (sixth) with 164 points and Southwest (seventh) with 181 points.
Sweetwater finished 6-0 in league duals while Castle Park finished 5-1.
“Castle Park ran better than they did at the dual meet – they did a good job,” SuHi coach Adrian Garcia said. “This year has been an awesome year. My hat goes off to our entire team. They worked hard all year to get this (the league championship). The team is performing above what I expected.”
As for CIF?
“We’ve got to regroup a little for next week,” Garcia said. “We’ve run into some illness late into the season. If we are healthy, we can run with anyone in CIF – maybe it’s a team spot, maybe it’s an individual spot, we’ll see.”
For the record
One team expected to do well at Saturday’s section finals is the Otay Ranch Mustangs’ girls squad after scorching a top-flight field with the top four finishers in Friday’s league finals. Otay Ranch emerged with a meet-low 21 points to runner-up Bonita Vista’s 39 to clinch the team’s third consecutive league championship.
All four top Mustangs finishers are juniors, led by Carina Gillespie, who set a new course record with a time of 15:12 on the 4,440-yard course.
Gillespie finished 46 seconds ahead of teammate Brenda Hernandez (second in league, 15:58), followed by Juliana Corrao (third in league, 16:07) and Catie LeDesma (fourth in league, 16:15).
Gillespie finished 31 seconds ahead of South Bay League champion Mariza Diaz, a senior from Chula Vista, who timed 15:43 in leading the Spartans to a league title.
“I just wanted to go out and run my race, which is that I wanted to do my best for my teammates and my coach,” said Gillespie, who recently finished seventh overall in a regional-draw meet in Clovis. “I wanted to help my team out. We wanted to get all seven of our runners in the top 10. We finished with seven in the top 14.”
The Mustangs went 1-2-3-4-11 in team scoring. Senior Blanda DeLaRocha was 11th in 16:41, followed by non-scorers Andie LeDesma (12th, 16:44) and sophomore Marlene Gadea (14th, 17:00).
The top 15 finishers receive medals – Otay Ranch medaled its entire team, not an easy feat to accomplish in a relatively talent-rich league such as the Mesa League.
Bonita Vista actually finished the meet with five all-league runners. The Barons put together an amazing pack time (five-runner spread) of 21 seconds.
Raelene DeArmas led BVHS with a fifth-place individual finish in 16:20. Following Olympian junior Kioana Smith (sixth in league in 16:22), the Barons had the next four place-finishers: sophomore Claudia Hernandez (seventh, 16:25) and juniors Kristen Lamprecht (eighth, 16:36), Elena Jurado (ninth, 16:37) and Clarissa Hernandez (10th, 16:41)
Eastlake sophomore Ridley Gatlin was 13th in 16:58 while classmate Alina Corona was 15th in 17:12 to round out the field of Mesa League medalists.
The Titans finished third in the team standings with 81 points, followed by Hilltop (fourth) with 129 points, Olympian (fifth) with 139 points and Mater Dei Catholic (sixth) with 151 points.
The Mustangs’ team goal, Gillespie said, is centered on qualifying as a team for the state championship meet Thanksgiving Weekend in Fresno.
“We want to get our whole team to state – that’s our only goal,” Gillespie said. “We’d like to do that for Blanca, who is our only senior on the team.”
“We ran well,” Cumming said. “Bonita improved quite a bit from when we ran against them in the dual meet. Bonita should be proud of their performance today. I’m proud of our girls for all the hard work they’ve put in over the season. Hopefully, we have a couple of more good races ahead of us.”
Luv ya blue
Chula Vista was making its debut in the South Bay League this season and finished 6-0 in duals on the girls side. The Spartans out-pointed runner-up Castle Park, 18-71, at Friday’s league finals.
Sweetwater finished third with 74 points, followed by Montgomery with 81 points. The Red Devils finished 5-1 in dual competition, with the one loss to Chula Vista.
CV’s Diaz claimed the South Bay League’s individual championship by a 20-second margin over teammate Yoceline Ramirez. Castle Park’s Keeshawna Jackson, last year’s league champion, finished third in the field with a time of 16:43 – a full minute behind Diaz.
The Spartans went 1-2-4-5-6 in team scoring, with six of the top seven league finishers in an absolutely dominating performance. Chula Vista totaled six all-league runners and seven medal-winners for their bounty.
Besides Diaz and Ramirez, first-team all-league runners for the Spartans also included senior Cynthia Ruffin (fourth, 16:57), sophomore Brooke Martinez (fifth, 17:07), junior Rosa Marin (sixth, 17:13). Also earning medals for CVHS were sophomore Jakelyne Jimenez (seventh, 17:20) and junior Elisa Garcia (13th, 17:48).
Montgomery junior Kristine Jiao finished eighth in 17:21, while San Ysidro sophomore Karina Cantera was ninth in 17:22 and Mar Vista senior Karley Tena was 10th in 17:29. Also earning league medals were Castle Park senior Amada Cason (11th, 17:30), Sweetwater senior Amparo Gavrain (12th, 17:47), Montgomery junior Brandi Sanchez (14th, 17:54) and Sweetwater sophomore Erika Gonzalez (15th, 17:59).
Diaz remained modest of her personal accomplishments. “It was a chance to prove that we could do well,” she said in reference to her team. “We always worked hard but this year we did what we always wanted to do, which was to win a banner.”
Bonita Vista junior Christian Kelley recorded a 29-second victory in the boys junior varsity race, winning in 17:11, while Bonita Vista freshman Sharik Figueroa captured the girls JV race in 17:33.
Top teams at the boys JV league finals included Bonita Vista (Mesa League) and Castle Park (South Bay League). The Barons out-pointed the runner-up Mustangs 25-33 in the field of 114 runners. Castle Park recorded a 29-43 scoring edge in the 64-deep South Bay League field.
Top teams at the girls JV league finals included Otay Ranch (Mesa League) and Chula Vista (South Bay League). The Mustangs finished ahead of the Barons 26-37 in the 61-deep Mesa League field. Chula Vista was perfect in the South Bay League field with the top six runners, defeating runner-up Sweetwater 15-62.
South Bay League JV champions included Chula Vista senior Stevan Perez (17:25) and Chula Vista freshman Diana Jimenez (17:49).