On Wednesday, Sept. 6, the Escalon cross country team traveled to River Bluff Regional Park to compete in the TVL 1 cluster meet.
Starting things off was the JV girls’ 2-mile race. The Cougars finished third as a team, with the first five being freshman Leigh Garside (17:21), junior Jocelyn Espinoza (17:23), freshman Athena Quiroz (17:26), junior Kali Castellanos (17:34), and sophomore Madelyn Fahey (17:41).
“These five were just a small glimpse of the 16 runners we had in this race,” said head coach Michael Bower.
Like much of the team, colds and injuries sidelined a few of the JV boys. But the five that were able to run still earned fourth place as a team. Those five were freshman Conner Jones (13:28, ninth place overall), sophomore Theo Harp (14:28), freshman Luke Konradi (14:31), freshman Kenneth Vargas (15:24), and junior Christopher Garcia (18:46).
“This is always a tough meet because, you have some kids who have been training all summer and some kids who just showed up to their first cross country practice a week ago. In addition, the start of the school year has many kids still adjusting to the new routines of school and practice. And for many runners, this is one of their first races so they haven’t figured out how to race yet,” Bower explained. “It was great to see what our younger athletes could do. A few kids had some off days, but several had some huge breakout personal bests, and really approached their race with a great attitude.”
Next up was the varsity girls’ 5-kilometer race. The girls stormed to a strong second place finish, ending up five points behind Hughson and six points in front of Hilmar. They were led by freshman Kylie Fast (21:54, third place overall), junior Lauren Rodriguez (24:08, 12th place overall), freshman Victoria Calderon (24:47, 13th overall), junior Katherine Romero (24:50, 14th overall), and junior Charlotte Shaddix (26:17, 22nd overall).
Ending the day, the varsity boys race came down to a tie breaker. The Cougars tied for second place with Ripon and then took third after Ripon’s sixth runner finished before the Cougars’ sixth runner. Both Ripon and Escalon were six points behind the first place team, Livingston; and less than 15 points separated the first four teams, which means this year’s league race is shaping up to be one that will likely go down to the wire.
Scoring for the Cougars were senior Andrew Morales (18:04, fourth overall), senior Jose Calderon (18:32, ninth overall), junior Nate Millard (18:35, 10th overall), junior Daniel Bagadiong (19:35, 13th overall), and senior Marcos Grajeda (21:42, 31st overall).
“It was incredible to see both varsity teams step up and have some great times and places. To essentially earn second place for both boys and girls was super exciting. It’s been a few years since we have been competitive as a team, so to taste that it’s possible early in the season is a huge motivation as we continue to train and learn,” said Bower. “Overall, I am proud of the success we have had, especially with all of our new faces. Over half our roster is in their first cross country season, so they have a lot to learn. But they are showing up, and soaking it all in and haven’t even begun to touch their potential.”
The cross country runners will be focused on training over the next few weeks and will also travel to the Frogtown Invite at the Calaveras Fairgrounds on Saturday, Sept. 16 (a preview of the subsection course), before returning for the TVL 2 cluster meet on Sept. 27.
“Right now the priority is learning, learn how to warm up and cool down, learn your pacing, learn how to run hills and turns, learn how to hydrate and eat well, manage your stress load, and ultimately build that confidence that when we want to, we know we can show up and perform our best,” Bower summarized. “The end of the season is when it matters most, so any success between now and then is an extra blessing.”