Comets Have Historic Day at STAL #3

The Comets took to Montgomery Hill for their 3rd league meet of the season on Wednesday October 5th. This matchup was highly anticipated, as the first Montgomery meet of the season, as a matchup with STAL powerhouse Pioneer high school.

For a course history of Montgomery Hill, read here first: 

https://coachbennyreeves.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/jlxc-history-montgomery-hill-time-trial-recap/Th

Montgomery Hill is now the signature course of the BVAL and the Comets began racing on the course during the final years of the James Lick boy’s last great era. As such, the course holds immense significance for the ability to compare within the BVAL. After two weeks of hard work, the Comets were ready to show the benefits of their training.

The day got off to a bizarre start. Due to a mix-up, the Frosh/Soph boys were pointed in the wrong direction on the course in two separate areas. Every Frosh/Soph Boy ran the middle school course of 2.06 miles, instead of the high school 2.74 mile version. As every boy ran this version of the course, the places were allowed to stand as legitimate. Pioneer is the team to go through on the boys side in the STAL. Not only are they the 2014 and 2015 Varsity boys STAL champs, but their reserve and Frosh/Soph teams have already showed tremendous depth. At STAL 2, Pioneer had their top 5 Frosh/Soph boys in the top 11 overall, while the Comets #1 Frosh/Soph Boy was Mark in 22nd place.

The team was not able to defeat the Mustangs, but they did give them a much more difficult fight than anticipated. Pioneer boys took places 1-4 overall, but Comet runners Vincent Giglio, Mark Orpia, and Nien Tran came in 5th, 7th and 11th. Rudy Peterson and Jerricho Habon rounded out the team’s scoring 5. Melvin Estrada and Hugo Marquez rounded out the team overall.

The Varsity girl’s had no trouble going the correct way, and Arlet Miranda lead the group in 19:16, a huge PR and the 2nd best James Lick girls time in school history to finish 5th overall. After missing time to work on her grades, Maria Mendoza ran 21:50, a strong improvement on the 22:52 she ran at STAL 1. Daisy Nava ran a 20 second PR of 22:38 to be the team’s 3rd girl, though the absence of Milka Perez hurt the team overall. Denisse Calixto and Belen Sanchez rounded out the scoring in 24: 14 and 24:55 respectively, with Analilia Regla finishing in 25:05 a PR by more than 1:30. The team ran a team time of 112:53 (1:52:53) better than the 113:53 that they opened last season’s first Montgomery meet with. While the team is trending in the right direction, they too were unable to defeat the Pioneer Mustangs.

 

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Varsity Girls Left to Right: Arlet Miranda, Maria Mendoza, Belen Sanchez, Analilia Regla, Daisy Nava, Denisse Calixto

The Varsity Boys were next up on the ledger, but before detailing their race it’s important to contextualize this team’s drive.

No team has come to represent the rebirth of JLXCTF more than this group of athletes. I began coaching 4 years ago, and the varsity team of 2013 had very little running experience. While there were dedicated athletes like Karan Singh, Nathan Bernardo and Gustavo Aguilera, the team was a long way from being competitive within the BVAL, let alone the STAL specifically. Our best team that season at Montgomery hill was 94: 56 (1:34:56). A far cry from the school record of 81:48 (1:21:48) ran in 2003 by a team that went 7-0 in the MHAL (‘A’ division). Nathan ran 19:17 as a freshmen at Montgomery Hill, while Gustavo Aguilera ran 27:00. While their times were not even particularly impressive frosh/soph times, both boys showed an indomitable spirit and desire to improve themselves, that would help lay the foundation for the team culture we have now.

We were moved down to the WVAL after this season, in part because our rapidly improving girl’s team was listed as 0-7 on the league standings sheet, while their correct record should have been listed at 4-3. I remember Nathan asking after this if we could get back into the STAL if we ran fast enough, and more so, if we might potentially win a league championship one day. Myself, then fellow JLXC coach, John Quasarano,and the students on the team felt that we deserved to remain in the STAL. We set out with the goal of proving this, and I as a first year coach, was very determined to try to “outcoach” other coaches, and help my athletes develop at a faster rate than the athletes are larger, more financially advantaged schools.

In setting out to coach the best I could, I began to compile the all time list available on this site. Having a father who ran at James Lick, and having run at James Lick myself, lead me to understand the great tradition of JLXC. In compiling these lists however, I began to truly understand the depth and power of James Lick’s tradition in general, and our goal’s began to shift. We wanted a team that was inclusive of all athletes regardless of ability level. A place where anyone who wanted to run XC/Track, would be able to do so with the unmitigated support of their coaches and teammates. The positive attitude of athletes like Daniela Camacho, Brianna Flores, Mario Perez, and Oscar Sanchez helped ensure this was the case.

From a competitive standpoint, we wanted to eventually restore James Lick’s status as a powerhouse not just within the WVAL, not just within the BVAL,  but within the CCS. The reality is James Lick is not the same school that it was during much of it’s athletic glory days. The population is lower, the demographics have shifted, and the wallet’s are thinner. We are consistently one of the smallest school’s in the BVAL, currently 4th smallest, and the smallest of any team in the STAL for Cross country. We are consistently one of the poorest schools in the BVAL. Educational data from 2013/2014 showed that 80% of James Lick’s students qualified for free or reduced lunch. Only Overfelt had  a greater percentage of students from “low income” households. In comparison, STAL schools from the south side, Leigh, Branham and Pioneer have only 7%, 14% and 26% of students qualifying for the same program.

While this is not a direct factor on athletic or academic success, the ability to live comfortably affords one the ability to focus on tasks such as school and sports with greater rigor. This is exemplified by athletes like Maria Mendoza, who qualified for CCS last year as a junior, but is struggling to find time to practice between the fact that she is busy applying for college, taking care of school work, and working two jobs to help support her family.

James Lick’s rate of sending students to college is among the lowest in Santa Clara Country. Ultimately our goal in attempting to restore the program’s competitive success, was to demonstrate that Comets, and east-siders everywhere are capable of success regardless of the limitations set upon them. The idea was, if a small poor school from the East Side, could compete with the large rich schools of the West side, and do so with a class and sportsmanship that defied people’s assumptions about what the “kids from the hood” were like, we could in our small way, raise our school/community consciousness and work towards our fellow east siders achieving more than they thought they could. The Comets understand their status as societal and athletic underdogs, and the team is using this as chip on their shoulder, rather than as another reason to be discouraged.

These goals, however idealistic, were a long way from coming to fruition. 94:56 is a long way from 81:48. In the 2013 season when we ran our 94:56, we had only one boy run under 19 minutes. While Nathan’s 19:17 was a promising freshmen time, there was little indication that team would be competitive outside of the WVAL any time soon. There were 3 runners who ran under 16 minutes at Montgomery from the STAL when the Comets ran 94:56,and all 3 had been running under 16 since their freshmen year. For the team to begin to approach it’s long term goals, athletes like Nathan would have to wok very hard to move the program forward each year. The 2014 WVAL Championship by the girls had the team moving back to the STAL for the 2015 season, a year removed from when the Varsity boys were only a 94 minute team. While Nathan and Gustavo remained from freshmen year, they’d been joined by fellow distance runners along the way, all buying into the cause that we have been toiling towards for the last four years.

In those four years, the team has come along way towards their goals, and it showed in the matchup with Pioneer. Nathan Bernardo lead the team with a PR of 15:52, tied for the 2nd best time in school history on the course, placing second overall, narrowly holding off Pioneer’s fastest runner. Erik Olsvold was close behind at 15:57, becoming just the 4th Comet in school history to break the 16 minute barrier at Montgomery Hill, just seconds after Nathan became the 3rd. Azael Zamora placed 7th overall in 16:26, an off race by his standards. Inteus Castro-Lopez, 16:40, Gustavo Aguilera, 16:53 and Gustavo Parra, 16:57 came in 9th, 11th and 12th respectively to round out the team. The Comets had all 6 of their runners in before Pioneer had their 3rd. The dominant team showing yielded a team time of exactly 81:48, tying the school record in the highly symbolic victory over a strong Pioneer team. The Varsity boys move to 5-0 with this victory, and take another step towards winning the STAL championship. This would be only the 8th James Lick league championship in any sport since the year 2000, and the first championship not to come from the ‘C’ league.

The girls JV race, as well as the reserve races followed up the Varsity Boys with some strong performances as well. Camilla Hernandez continues to flash strong potential, running 25:19 on her first try on the course, a very promising young time. Heck, that’s faster than Gustavo A’s first try as a freshmen and he ran 16:53 today! Susie Peterson and Aliana Santos were not far behind, running solid JV times. Valerie Flores narowly dipped under the 30 minuter barrier for the course, running 29:53. Diana Romero ran 30:28 a huge PR from her 31:51 a year ago. Ashley Preciado also continues to develop, running 30:59 better than her previous league race best of 33:04 just 2 weeks ago. Brittany Salazar and Ally Floreza ended the girl’s race with league race bests as well, running 32:42 and 34:15 respectively.

The reserve boys have been a source of strength for the team in the past decade, and are beginning to round  into form as well. David Bejines placed 3rd overall in 19:32, a minute faster than his 20:33 STAL previous best. Isaak Herrera and Austin Swank ran 20:49 and 20:50, very strong times for the first Montgomery meet of the season. Manuel Villalobos ran 21:52 a league race best by more than 2 minutes. Daniel Portillo ran a league race best as well, finishing in 23:39 while Kevin Bach finished in 23:45 to finish the Comets day.

With 3 league races in the books, the Comets will finish up the STAL season with meets at Montgomery Hill both of the next two Thursdays, and will head to Crystal Springs this Saturday for their final invitational of the season. Crystal Springs will allow the team to compare themselves against many of the best teams in the CCS.

Thank you for reading, especially if you hung in there while I got all sociological.

-Benny Reeves

 

 

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