Comparing Eras of James Lick Cross Country

This is a long post where I essentially try to divide up James Lick’s XC history into eras. If you’re into that sort of thing, read on at your own peril. 

It is never easy to compare across eras in sports. Many American sports have radically changed over time. Pitchers used to pitch 16 inning complete games, football teams hardly employed the passing game, Steph Curry could not have dominated in the days before the 3-point line.

One of the beauties of Cross Country and track is the relative lack of change over the years. Dirt and cinder tracks have evolved into rubber/synthetic tracks. Shoes have gotten better. Beliefs around training have changed and participation in the sport has only grown. Some events and courses have changed, but there is a lot of history around the Bay Area when it comes to Cross Country.

The ultimate example is the Crystal Springs 2.95 miles long cross country course. James Lick first raced there in 1973, and then every year since 1975 for a grand total of 44 years of history. This is enhanced by the fact that Crystal Springs has always hosted significant races. It is the site of BVAL Finals every year nowadays, and it has been the host site of CCS Finals more years than any other course (and it will be host again this year).

Remarkably, James Lick is approaching it’s 70th year of existence, the school has plenty of years to compare. This will be my attempt to compare James Lick’s various eras of XC. It is of course subjective, and damaged the difficulty finding complete information on James Lick’s older teams.

  1. The Early Years/ NCS Era    Years: 1950-1965     League Championships: 3  Highest Section Finish:  4th- 1956   Team Section qualifications: 3 (16 possible) 

James Lick was founded in 1950, the school predates the CCS. It was the first public school in East Side San Jose, and the first member of the East Side Union High School District. San Jose was a different city at by many measures. Today, San Jose ranks as the 10th biggest city in the country by population, with over 1 million residents. I can’t find data from 1950, but by 1960, San Jose was only the 57th biggest city in the country, with 200,000 people.

James Lick had a bigger school enrollment in the early years, seeing as it was the only school on the Eastside, there was no other school to compete with for students. Despite James Lick being a new school, it found success in cross country quickly.

James Lick was initially placed in the SCVAL (Santa Clara Valley Athletic League) and by 1954 they were the league championships on the 1.95 miles long, Stanford Golf Course. The Comets defeated runner up Santa Clara by almost 5 minutes. Keith Antes is listed as the winner of the race. Before the CCS was formed, Antes would become James Lick’s cross country coach.

The team managed to repeat as champs in 1955 and 1956, one of two different “three-peats” in James Lick’s cross country history. The fastest Comet in 1955 at SCVAL finals was Carlos Saldivar, who would go on to coach with Keith Antes for many years and then head the team himself when Antes retired.

After their 3-league championships, James Lick experienced a down-period where they did not qualify for NCS (North Coast Section) finals for several years. The end of their time in the NCS was fairly unremarkable. The 50s and early 60s saw the foundation of several other East Side Schools, including Overfelt, Mt. Pleasant, and Andrew Hill.

The Mt. Hamilton League and the CCS (Central Coast Section) were formed within a few years of one another, and by the time they were formed, the Comets had 3 titles to their name.

The level of competition in the bay area would see a big spike in the 60s and 70s.

2. The Early CCS Era  Years:  1965-1976        League Championships: 0                    Highest Section Finish: 1 (1 championship) Team Section qualification: 4 Var 3FS (12 possible) 

The MHAL formed in the mid 1960s and became competitive very quickly. James Lick was consistently competitive from the get go. The Comets were first represented at CCS finals by Mick Coyle in 1966. He ran on a shorter version of the current Crystal Springs course.  By 1970 the Comets had their first team qualify for CCS.

In the mid 1960s, the MHAL began using Alum Rock Park as it’s primary course. The 2.25 mile course was only slightly different than the course we use for our alumni race.

1970 was significant for a few reasons. It marked the first time that the CCS added divisions to CCS finals. They created a small schools division and a large schools division. The James Lick team of 1970 won the small schools division, claiming the only CCS championship in school history in any sport. Jim Sena claimed the individual CCS title in 12:39 for a 2.5 mile course (at least that’s what it’s listed at) in Golden Gate Park. Teammate Luis Sanchez was 2nd in 12:49.

Everything lined up for the team of 1970. A year later, the team failed to qualify for CCS. The teams of the early 80s ran more impressive times,  but the team of 1970 achieved what no other James Lick team ever has.

In the mid 70s, James Lick began making regular trips to Crystal Springs for Center meets, invitationals, and eventually CCS. While James Lick was a bigger school in the 70s, the Crystal Springs course is exactly the same as it was then, making comparisons easy.  The team of 1973 team ran a combined team time of 82:25, which still stands as the 3rd best Crystal Springs time in school history. Both the team of 1973 and the team of 1970 ran 61 minutes as a team at MHAL finals for an impressive average of 12:12 per runner at Alum Rock Park. This makes it a tough call to name the best James Lick team to this point.

In 1975 at CCS finals, Joe Salazar ran 15:21 at Crystal Springs, a time which no Comet has beaten to this day. To this point, we’ve only discussed boys teams because girls competition did not start until the mid 1970s.

3. The Golden Era   Years: 1976-1989     League Championships: 7

Highest CCS Finish: 4 1981     CCS Team Qualifications: 6 

In 1978 James Lick won it’s 4th league title, and the first one in the MHAL. By this time, the Comets also had girls competing. The greatest teams in James Lick history are the teams of 1980 and 1981 in my opinion. The Comet boys won the MHAL in both seasons, and the girls won the MHAL title in 1981 as well. This is the only time that both the boys and girls teams have been champions in the same year. The 3 titles in a 2 year span is also a James Lick best.

The girls team ran a record of 1:46:41, at Crystal Springs. This is still the only James Lick girls team to combine to finish the course under 1 hour and 50 minutes (something we’re trying to change this year).  The boys team of 1981 also ran what stands as our school team record time. Headed by Frank Munoz and Randy Pangelina, the team clocked in at 80:46, an average of 16:09 per boy. In some years this is good enough to win CCS, bad luck and tough competition stopped the Comets from claiming that prize. The teams of 80 and 81 also won the Artichoke Invitational two years in a row.

While the girls achieved great success early in the decade, they would struggle to consistently field competitive teams, an issue that would continue well into the 2000s.

The success I’ve  already described  is a enough to explain why I call this the golden era of James Lick Cross Country. The fact that the Comets would achieve their 2nd ever “three-peat” from 1985-1987 further proves the case.  James Lick has achieved 15 league/league-division championships in it’s long history. Nearly half come from this 14 year span.

As I’ve said, Crystal Springs is the course with the most complete history (44 years) for the Comets. The team of 1981 was the fastest Comet team ever on the course. The team of 1977 was 2nd, the team of 1987 was 4th, the team of 86 was 5th. In fact over the last 44 years, 8 of the fastest 10 James Lick teams at Crystal Springs ran in this golden era of James Lick cross country.

 

4. Transition Era/ Early BVAL Era   Years: 1990-2001       League/ Division Championships: 2                         

CCS Team Qualifications: 11                Highest CCS Finish:  5th – 1992 

This era marks the transition into the BVAL era, where the MHAL becomes a division of the larger BVAL. There were several changes during this time period. The CCS arrived at its modern format, a 5 division final with only varsity races. Qualification became easier as a result. At this point, James Lick’s academic reputation had fallen considerably, and its athletics suffered from a general decline of enrollment.  The 3 division format of the BVAL ( that we still use today).  Montgomery Hill and Toro Park were introduced as major courses, and finally, Coach Saldivar would retire shortly after this era ended.

While James Lick was in decline during this period by many measures, it still achieved considerable XC success. With the changes to CCS qualifications (with League finals taking the place of the CCS regional meets) the Comet boys made CCS as a team every single year from 1992 to 2001. In 1993, the lady Comets qualified for CCS as a team for the first time and they did so again in 2001.

The team captured two division titles, one in 1996 and another in 1999. Both times the Comets won the ST division (‘B’) division title. An impressive feet considering most James Lick sports had been relegated to the ‘C’ division by this time. The team also had 5 of their 7 State Meet qualifiers during this period. This is largely because of the fact that the State meet wasn’t held until 1987, when Joe Amendt became the team’s first ever qualifier.

5. BVAL/Modern Era       Years: 2002- Present         League/Division Championships: 3

CCS Team Qualifications: 13                                      Highest CCS Finish:  6th-    2014 

Finally we arrive at the modern era. The beginning of this era saw James Lick finish it’s decline. In 2003, though the school was struggling, the varsity boys were the 3rd best team in the entire BVAL. By 2007, the team time at Crystal Springs was 97:40. This is the slowest varsity boys team time on record for any James Lick team that ran at Crystal Springs. While the girls team was pretty strong, mainly because of the presence of Kayla Matsuda, they were not strong enough to win the WV division (‘C’ division). This was the low point in James Lick’s XC trajectory.

In 2009, the team rebounded to win the WV division on the boys side, the 12th title in school history. In 2014, the team won just their 2nd ever girls championship, and in 2016, the boys won the ST division, just the 1st ‘B’ division title for the school in any sport since 2004.

photo
2014 BVAL Champions -WV

In years to come, I may create a new dividing line around these past few years, because of a new notable changes. First and foremost, this is the greatest era of success the James Lick girls have ever achieved. While the #1 girls team time in school history is still the team of 1981, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th are the past 5 seasons. The 2014 team placed 6th at CCS, the highest finish for a Comet girls team at CCS in school history.

 

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2016 BVAL Champions – ST

This era could easily be called the Montgomery Hill era, as Montgomery Hill became the primary race course of the BVAL in 2001. We still had races at Alum Rock Park over the 2.85 mile course most seasons, but as of 2018, sadly there will be no more races at Alum Rock Park.

We will continue to run the alumni race on the old 2.25 mile course, but unfortunately, there might never be an official race in Alum Rock Park again. This might make 2018 and on the “post Alum Rock Park era.” Time will tell if there’s enough to distinguish it from past years.

Conclusion 

It’s difficult to know what we as a school could do now if we didn’t have to fight so many schools for student enrollment. It’s tough to say what runners of the past might have done with modern technology.  In any case, James Lick cross country has achieved some level of success in every era, and the Comets of today are dedicated to making sure that continues.

A season preview and/or Time trial recap will come soon. The first day of school is only 9 days away!

Thanks for reading,

-Benny Reeves

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