This past Saturday, Nov. 6 the Escalon Cross country team traveled up to the Calaveras Fairgrounds to race in the San Joaquin Subsection Meet.
They arrived early enough to watch the sun rise above the famous hillside, and enjoyed just about perfect running weather – a stark contrast from past seasons that brought rainy-day course changes or smoke from wildfires. They were competing against the other 36 schools in Division IV, and ultimately had a solid showing. Both some teams and individual runners qualified to move on to the Section Meet.
The day’s racing began with the freshman boys race, in which the Cougars took second place as a team. The first two battled back and forth all race, with Nate Millard (13:49, 10th overall) taking a late race lead over teammate Daniel Bagadiong (13:52, 11th overall). The scoring five were rounded out by a standout run by Calan Crumbley (14:04, 13th overall), Angel Romero (14:44) and Jake Sawyer (15:01).
The sophomore boys then continued the success, advancing as a team with their sixth place finish. The first three Escalon runners found themselves in a battle of final kicks as they entered the finishing turns neck and neck and finished with less than 1.2 seconds between them for places 31 through 33 overall. With a strong surge to finish first was Marcos Grajeda (14:03.2), followed by Jose Calderon (14:04.1) and Julian Gonzalez (14:04.4).
“It’s fun to watch teammates challenge each other like that,” said head coach Michael Bower. “It’s one thing to be neck and neck at practice, but when you are in a race, it’s different. Especially if you haven’t beaten that teammate before. I imagine they will be talking about that finish for a while.”
The sophomore boys scoring five were rounded out by Jacob Beneux (15:11, 40th overall) and Joseph Corrales (20:06, 51 overall), who set a 2-mile personal record on a much tougher, hilly course compared to the TVL course at Jacob Myers Park.
The ball kept rolling as the frosh/soph girls race kept the team success going. They qualified for sections finishing fourth place as a team, missing third by a single point. The Cougars were led by freshman Victoria Rich (16:05, 13th overall) and sophomore Hannah Wampler (16:42, 23rd overall). The next two flip-flopped from their TVL finals finish, this time freshman Kali Castellanos (18:00, 40th overall), narrowly beating good friend freshman Emma Berchtold (18:01, 41st overall). Sophomore Destiny Reyes (18:08, 43rd overall) rounded out the scoring with teammate sophomore Kaleia Jones (21:34, 67th overall) acting as displacer.
The varsity races held some very strong and talented teams. Both boys (18th team) and girls (13th team) had some strong showings, but missed out on advancing to sections as a team.
On the girl’s side, freshman Katherine Romero (21:42) was the 25th overall finisher, but the seventh individual finisher and will advance to race at sections. In addition, junior Megan Fahey crushed her personal best, finishing in 55th place in a time of 23:33. They were followed by teammates sophomore Laura Thompson in 24:31, junior Ryan Walker in 26:35, senior Mariana Peralta setting a personal best in 26:44, and Gorette Coelho in 28:12.
“There’s something fun about knowing all the nuances of how these athletes get to this moment. It’s easy to look up the times online and think, ‘Oh, this runner had a good day’ or ‘Maybe this wasn’t their best.’ But as a coach you know. You know the injuries, the colds, the distractions, the struggles, the growth, the progress,” noted Bower. “We aren’t guaranteed to have our best every time we step on the course, but when you have the athletes that overcome their personal challenges and are able to celebrate a success, no matter how small, that is a moment that I look forward to being excited about.”
The varsity boys were led by the same trio: sophomore Andrew Morales (18:52, 58th overall), junior Joshua Churchill (20:09) and senior Ben Millard (20:25). Those three were followed by a solid run from junior Cadon Crumbley (22:15) and a huge personal best by junior Nikolai Lorenzo (23:07).
Finally, the junior varsity races saw a handful of final athletes with senior Jillian Junquiero (27:42) finishing in 13th place overall and the ninth individual in order to qualify for sections.
“Jill was part of a frosh/soph girls team that qualified for sections during the 2018 season, but at the last minute didn’t get to race when the section had to condense the race schedule due to poor air quality. Not quite the right pieces the next season, and obviously last season looked very different with no postseason for anyone,” Bower said. “All that to say, there is something very fitting about her ending her high school cross country season by returning to sections. It’s another ‘story among the story’.”
Overall, a total of 19 runners (three teams and two individuals) qualified for the Section Race to be held at Folsom High School on Saturday, Nov. 13.
“For my first year as head coach, I couldn’t have asked for a better team to train. They had great attitudes, brought the fun, showed growth and improvement. The returners helped lead newer runners. And the new ones were receptive to learning,” said Bower. “At the end of the day, one of our T-shirt quotes says it best, ‘We never lose. We either win or learn’.”
On Saturday, the freshman boys team, sophomore boys team, frosh/soph girls and two individual girls will race.
All Section Qualifiers: Freshman Boys - Nate Millard, Daniel Bagadiong, Angel Romero, Jake Sawyer, Calan Crumbley, Xilen Yangose. Sophomore Boys - Marcos Grajeda, Jose Calderon, Julian Gonzalez, Jacob Beneux, and Joseph Corrales. Frosh/Soph Girls - Victoria Rich, Hannah Wampler, Kalie Castellanos, Emma Berchtold, Destiny Reyes, Kaleai Jones. Varsity Girl - Katherine Romero and JV Girl - Jillian Junquiero.