What’s so bad about feeling so good?
The Castle Park High School cross country team certainly has an answer to that question after qualifying as a team to compete at last weekend’s state championship meet in Fresno.
The Trojans finished second in the Division III boys race at the San Diego Section championship meet Nov. 17 at Morley Field. To be sure, it will remain one of the most talked about races, particularly in South County running circles, for years to come.
Some may put a negative spin on what happened. But glory comes in many forms, not necessary in who crosses the finish line ahead of whom.
The goal in any race is to finish. To give up is to walk off leaving something half-finished, incomplete, unfulfilled.
Or — as the scenario played out to horrified spectators at the section finals — to crawl off the running course.
For those who weren’t there to witness something truly extraordinary, Castle Park entered the race as one of six contending teams seeking to finish among the top three teams to earn a trip to last Saturday’s state finals.
Midway through the race, Castle Park seniors Miguel Lopez and Daniel Vazquez were running side-by-side at the front of the pack. For any Metro Conference runner, coach or fan, it had to be a thrilling sight.
As runners made their way down the final hill, Vazquez dropped off the pace, leaving Lopez to battle it out with El Capitan’s Daniel Gomez and Monte Vista’s Steven Lepe for the Division III individual title.
As the course shortened with each step, the intensity — and amount of energy expended — built.
Finally, it was down to Lopez and Gomez in the last half-mile, with both of their teams in comfort zones to qualify for a trip to the state championships. In fact, as Gomez dropped Lopez into second place going around the final turn, Castle Park actually had a first-place finish all but locked up.
That is until Lopez fell on the course within sight of the finish line.
Exhaustion was evidently the culprit. Yet the goal remained: finish.
Lopez did just that, struggling to his feet, then crumbling to the turf several times before he finally satisfied the burning zeal obviously still on his mind.
More than 25 runners, including three from his own team, passed Lopez as he struggled to finish. He went from second place to 29th as the Trojans fell back to finish 27 points behind team champion El Capitan.
Had Lopez indeed finished in second place, Castle Park would have won the division title.
That the Trojans didn’t win it all was on the minds of many. However, had Lopez given up and crawled off the course, Castle Park would have gone nowhere but home.
Despite finishing fourth on the team, it was Lopez’s heroic desire to finish the race that clinched a state meet berth for the South Bay League co-champions.
Long story short, the Trojans did compete in last Saturday’s state meet, and so did Lopez.
In fact, Lopez, who had to be transported to a nearby hospital following the Morley Field race, led his team at Woodward Park with a time of 16:21 on the 5K course.
The Trojans finished 17th out of 23 teams — nine points behind 16th place El Capitan and 16 points behind 14th place Valley Center (the third place qualifier at the section finals).
Lopez finished 39th among the 193 finishers while Vazquez placed 56th in 16:32.
Both are respectable showings.
Also for the Trojans, Jesus Ortiz was 98th in 16:54, followed by fellow seniors Rodrigo Paredes (151st, 17:29) and Gabriel Magana (161st, 17:41).
Besides Castle Park, five Metro runners qualified to compete at the state championships as individuals.
Sweetwater senior George Martinez, the reigning South Bay League champion, finished 59th in the 200-deep Division I boys race in 16:04 while Otay Ranch senior Rodrigo Baza was 88th in 16:17.
Otay Ranch senior Carina Gillespie finished 29th in the 196-deep Division I girls race in 18:30, followed by sophomore teammate Darla Osuna (71st, 19:06).
Montgomery senior Alejandro Rosario was 94th in the Division III boys race in 16:51.
Top section performances in Fresno were turned in by Ramona senior Forrest Riley, who finished third in the Division II boys race (five places ahead of section winner Steven Fahy of La Costa Canyon), and the Carlsbad boys team, which tied for second place in Division I.
What’s so bad about feeling so good?