With their first invitational of the season coming up this Friday – the Lodi Flame Invite at Lodi Lake – the Escalon cross country team is in high gear getting ready for that event and the rest of the season.
The Times recently posed some questions to head coach Rick Heflin, previewing the team for this year.
Q: What are your numbers like this season?
A: Right now about 56. Having soccer in the winter has increased our boy numbers. The girl numbers are down.
Do you have some strong returners/promising newcomers?
Eddy Calderon and Zack Gardner are our veteran boys and on the girls side we have Yajaira Salinas, Nora Nash, Jackie Lau, Marisol Aguayo and Gabby Rigg. A little too early to pick newcomers since we have not raced yet. Competitors emerge when there is a race. We have about 25 boys that are within 30 seconds of each other so who steps up will be interesting.
What is the key strategy you try to pass on to the team members?
In other sports a team member can score multiple times. In cross county a team member can score only once so your preparation, work ethic, and performance are very vital to the team. For that reason cross country is one of the most difficult team sports. Team is everything.
Also running is a technical sport and there is a ton to learn to be good. Most people think that since everyone runs as a kid that there is not much to running. Most people would be surprised how much form and technique work we do. I can swing a bat but that does not mean I can do it properly to hit the ball in a game for a home run.
Do you have an assistant coach and, if so, how do break up working with the kids?
Yes, Mo (Malinda) Walker will still be helping this year but due to starting a new job, she will only be 20 percent. The rest will be done by Mike Bowers, a math teacher at the high school.
What events/invitationals do you enjoy attending during the season?
Our season is split between small events that give the team some success and larger meets to show the team what to reach for. One of the large meets is Mount Sac in Pasadena. Since Escalon isn’t a running community like some towns on the coast, I really enjoy having the varsity get to see an event that has thousands of spectators, athletes, and glitz like TV cameras. Running is a big deal in some areas.
Which team do you see as the toughest competition for the boys/girls this year?
In the Trans-Valley League, Riverbank Hughson, Ripon and us are always going for it. On the girls side, Hughson and on the boys side, Riverbank are the returning favorites.