James Lick Track Season Comes to a Close: A Reflection on 5 Years of Coaching

When Charli Chircop hurled the discus 100-10 at CCS Finals, she signaled the end of not only her career, but of the 2018 track season (as far as James Lick is concerned). The 2018 season ending was very significant for me personally. It signified the end of my 5th year coaching, and also the end of my first year as a teacher. This blog will be a reflection on my first 5 years as a coach, and the growth of the cross country and track programs over the past 5 seasons.

The team has improved a lot over the past 5 seasons, that is especially demonstrated in track. If this years team faced the team of 2014 in a dual meet, assuming everyone matched their seasons bests, this would be the result:

Boys 2018: 116             Girls 2018: 102

Boys 2014: 19               Girls 2014: 25

I began coaching in fall of 2013. Alex Ponik, one of my coaches at James Lick, was stepping down as head coach. He offered me a position as an assistant coach, a job I was happy to accept. The day before school began for James Lick however, I was informed that our intended head coach would be unable to coach after all. As a result, I was forced to take the helm along with John Quasarano at the last moment.

That first year was tough. As a 20-year old, I lacked confidence in  my own authority as a coach. Our top runner and team captain was Armando Aguilar. Armando and I were teammates just a few years before when I myself was team captain. We were also a very inexperienced team on the boys side. 5 of our 7 varsity boys had never run cross country before 2013. Only Armando had been a member of the varsity team before. This combined with our placement in the ‘B’ division, saw us finish with a 1-6 record on the varsity boys side. Honestly, we were lucky to even win 1 meet.

The huge bright side of that season was the varsity girls team. We pulled off a 4-3 season, the first winning season for the Lady Comet since 2009. Of the 24 BVAL teams, we finished in 15th place on the girls side at BVAL Finals. Our Combined team time was 117:28 (or 1:57:28). It was the first time the team had run under 2 hours at Crystal Springs in several years, giving us good hope for the future.

The boys however finished 20th. Our team was 97:09 (1:37:09). This was partly due to the fact that Armando was unable to finish the race, but in any case, a 20th place finish was not where we wanted to be. Seeing our BVAL places, and our inexperienced coaching staff, the BVAL moved us down to the ‘C’ division for the 2014 season.

That was my lowest moment as a coach so far, largely because I believed that we did not belong in the ‘C’ division. We were a young coaching staff and a young team, but I was very confident we could turn things around.

Track was a different season. I joined the track coaching staff along with Ricardo Flores, Juan Trejo and Ray Iniguez. At the time, James Lick track had not won a single dual meet in over 5 years. The Comets had not had a winning season since 2000, and the girls had not had one on record in school history (definitely not since 1996 when the BVAL began keeping records).

The setup that first year saw me in charge of the girls track team, while the other 3 coaches handled the boys team. We managed to eek out our first wins in years, which gave us cause to dream bigger for the future.

On a personal level, 2014 was my most important year as a coach. My goal has always been to help my athletes improve by as much as possible, and hope that wins and success will follow from great improvement. 2014 was when I first gained confidence in my ability to foster improvement in my athletes, thanks to the hard work of a few key athletes.

Daniela Camacho had run 5:49 for the 1600 as a freshmen, though she slowed down to 6:02 as a sophomore, (not an uncommon phenomenon among girl distance runners). That year as a junior, we managed to reverse that trend and Daniela ended the season at 5:43 for the 1600. She lowered her PR to 5:27 the next season, a mark which currently stands as our school record (though Arlet Miranda ran 5:31 this season so here’s hoping she will beat it next year).

Destiny Lopez was maybe the most important athlete towards helping me believe in my own training methods. Destiny had run track since freshmen year, and her PRs were 6:51 in the 1600 and 15:47 in the 3200. 2014 was her senior year, my only year coaching her. It was a trough process, but at division finals, she ran massive PRs, 6:31 for the 1600 and 14:11 for the 3200.

Our track team had 23 athletes in 2014 and we had our first wins in years. Most important to me personally, I felt that just like the James Lick teams of old, we could work hard and improve substantially in pursuit of bigger victories. Our goal for XC 2014 was simple, prove that it was a mistake to send us down to the ‘C’ division.

Our girls thrived in that goal. The team went 7-0 and won the division handily. At BVAL Finals, after placing 15th in 1:57:28 the year before, we finished in 8th place in 1:50:00. The 1:50:00 mark is the 2nd best team time in school history. The team of 1981 is the only team to have run faster, incidentally the only other girls championship team in school history. The boys team improved significantly as well, moving up from 20th place to 15th place, and running 6 minutes faster as a team.

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2014 Team at CCS Left to Right: Mila Perez, Maria Mendoza, Paloma Contreras, Julia Cruz, Evalilia Garcia, Daniela Camacho, Brianna Flores

The 2014 team will always be special to me because it was my first division championship as a coach. The more rapid improvement was in track and field. In 2015, we had our first winning season in over a decade. By 2016, a girls division title. In 2017 a 2nd girls title, followed by our move up the ‘B’ division. The success in track and field is in no small part thanks to the excellent coaches I’ve had the chance to work with. From Coach Vela who was by my side in track from the beginning, to coach Nichols, and Turner, and recently coach Raul Lopez. Every coach we’ve had in track has played a pivotal role in improving the team.

The most impressive team of my coaching career however was the 2016 XC team, my only boys title to date, and my only ‘B’ division championship team so far.

That team showed what the culmination of years of hard work could lead to. Team captain Nathan Bernardo did an exceptional job leading that team. Truth to be told, I had to miss many practices throughout the season but Nathan never let the team waver. He lead practice when I could not. All of the teams hard work paid off with the boys going 7-0 and placing 2nd at BVAL finals, only losing to the ‘A’ division champions Willow Glen.

Our team time of 1:25:19 was a respectable mark for James Lick in any era. While it is nowhere near the school record of 1:20:46, it was the 12th best team time in school history,  and the best ever JL time at BVAL Finals.

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2016 Championship team Left to right: Me, Gustavo Aguilera, Erik Olsvold, Nathan Bernardo, Inteus Castro-Lopez, Gustavo Parra, Azael Zamora

After 5 years, I feel pretty good about where the program is at. We are solidly in the ‘B’ division in both cross country and track, and we have a very young team on both sides. Long term, coach Raul Lopez and myself will be looking to help take the program to the next level, eventually being a member of the ‘A’ division.

I’m proud that we’ve been able to outperform many schools that are larger than us, and better funded. We are currently the 2nd smallest school in the BVAL with a tick over 1100 students. The schools that are still consistently better than us have a few things in common. Some are outside of our control, such as larger enrollment and greater funds to draw from.

The most difficult discrepancy to overcome for us in my opinion is the lack of experience many of our athletes have. Our primary feeder schools are Joseph George and Shepard Middle School . Neither school had a track team this year. They often do not have cross country and when they do, it is not a substantial program. Willow Glen is consistently the best cross country team in the BVAL. This is in large part due to the amazing work of Coach Victor Santamaria, but every year, Willow Glen Middle School churns out multiple boys in the low 5 minute range in the 1600 and sometimes even some sub 5 minute boys.

The same is true of many of the schools we struggle to beat. Many of the top athletes in the area have been training for a long time. Our athletes have a lot of catching up to do. Azael Zamora just graduated with HS personal bests of 4:33 in the 1600 and 9:55 in the 3200. He did not join cross country until his sophomore year, and to that point he had never broken 6 minutes for the mile.

Long term, we are aiming to help ensure  that some of our alumni will take on coaching positions at some our local middle schools to help athletics not just at James Lick, but throughout the east side as a whole.

I also hope to have more alumni join my coaching staff. Coach turnover has been an issue for us, and having a more consistent solidified coaching staff will help us improve.

We are not at the same level of James Lick’s greatest teams, but restoring the greatness of James Lick in XC and track has been my goal since I started coaching. We are not nearly there, but we are a lot closer than we were 5 years ago. I want to thank every Comet that has been apart of it, and everyone who actually reads my rambling with interest/support.

Best marks/times under me can all be found under the history section of the blog ^

The 2018 XC team will begin conditioning on June 18th at 9:30 A.M.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comets Take Huge Step Forward at TKA Invitational

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The Distance girls, headed by Distance Captain Arlet Miranda (Center) 

The James Lick Comets took 38 athletes to the TKA Invitational on March 10th. It ended up being a tremendous day for the team, with 29 Personal best times and many more seasons bests.

The meet began with field events. The Frosh/Soph boys high jumpers acquitted themselves well Jonathan Bradley taking 4th place, clearing 5 feet for the first time. Salvador Lopez went over 4-10 in his first try at the event, and Josh Merin matched his PR of 406.

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Left to right: Salvador Lopez, Jonathan (JoJo) Bradley and Joshua Merin before the High Jump 

Natalie Rem and Kirsten Yutuc placed 3rd and 4th in the frosh/soph triple jump though neither girl PRd. David Bejines also tripled jumped for the team. The trio of Valeria Cortez, Charli Chircop and Alejandra Ceron combined for a 1-2-3 sweep of the varsity girls discus. This gives the Comets their 2nd consecutive Invitational victory in the girls discus. While Charli won the Willow Glen Invite in 107-3, Valeria took the win at TKA with a season;s best 105-0. Alejandra also threw a seasons best 94 feet in discus for 3rd. She would go on to win the Shot Put in a seasons best 32-1. Charli would throw 31-7 for 2nd and Valeria had to settle for 4th in a seasons best 30-1. The lady throwers from James Lick are poised to have a special season. Daniel Medina competed in boys throws for the team.

The TKA Invite was originally a distance carnival, and while it has now expanded to include some other events, it keeps the lively atmosphere that makes it exciting, with music playing during the breaks and during the distance events.

The meet began with the 4×100 relay. The Frosh/Soph team of Yesenia Martinez, Kirsten Yutuc, Chantrea Thach and Natalie Rem combined for a 4th place finish in 58 seconds, just off of medal position. The F/S boys team of Geovanny Campos, Salvador, Josh and Raven Alcantara took 7th in a tick over 50 seconds, a seasons best for James Lick’s F/S side.

The meet then moved into the 1600. Arlet Miranda started the day off strong with a seasons best 5:38.59. This is Arlet’s 2nd best time ever, missing her PR by only .13. This was a very rewarding result for Arlet. After her great freshmen track season and Sophomore XC season, Arlet had suffered through injuries and even iron deficiency, but she never stopped working hard. She now looks poised for her best track season yet. Yeimili Adame ran 6:14.86, a PR which moves her onto the school’s top 10 list in the event. Ashley Preciado ran 6:33, a 12 second PR and Mya Hammond ran a 7 second PR of 6:48. Mariana Perez and Emely Lopez both broke 7:30 for the first time, and Francine Estranero, Estefani Herrera and Erika Camacho also ran PRs.

The strong performances on the girls side were replicated by the boys. Melvin Estrada ran a new PR of 5:07, and is now knocking on the door of the HS distance runner’s biggest barrier. Jerricho Habon ran a PR of 5:22, his first time under 5:30. Hugo Marquez was just behind in a season’s best 5:23. Brandon Cruz ran a PR of 5:30 and Jose Ruiz ran a massive PR of 5:40, breaking the 6 minute barrier for the first time.

The meet then took a break from distance events to run the sprint events. Kirsten and Natalie went 1-2 in their heat and ran big PRs in the 100. Kirsten took her PR from 14.70 to 14.23 and Natalie jumped from 14.50 to 14.24. Yesenia ran 15.81, compared to her previous PR of 16.66, and Chantrea managed a small PR as well, running 16.60.

On the boys side, Geovanny continued to impress as a sprinter. In his first ever track meet earlier in the week, Geo took the win in the F/S 100 with a time of 12.76, a solid debut time for a Sophomore. He followed that up with a PR of 12.47 at TKA, showing real potential. Raven matched his PR of 12.60, and Salvador made his debut in the 100 running 13.38 despite a slip in the blocks. All 3 sophomores ran PRs in the 200 as well. Geo ran 25.73 (compared to a 26.70 on Thursday) Raven ran 26.07 (compared to 26.14 on Thursday) and Sal ran 26.37 (compared to 26.87 on Thursday). Misael Herrera and David Bejines competed for the team in the varsity sprint events. David ran a seasons best 12.92 in the 100, while Misael ran a seasons best 25.92 in the 200.

Susie Peterson ran a 200m PR of 33.51 and Kirsten ripped off a huge PR of 29.86. She is just the 4th girl since I’ve been coaching at James Lick to run under 30 seconds for the 200.

Yeimili followed up her strong 1600 with a strong 800. She ran 2:46.22, which lands her 9th on the school’s all time list in the event. Krystal Tran ran a PR of 3:21 in a later heat. Dakota Castro-Lopez ran an 800m PR of 2:34, while Jose ran 2:35 for his own PR.

Arlet ran 12:55 for the 3200, her first sub-13 clocking since her freshman year. Many Comet 2 milers Prd. Jenny and Ashley ran 14:46 and 14:49 respectively, and Daniel Portillo ran 12:24. Two Prs stood out in particular however.

In the frosh/soph race, Melvin ran a very impressive 10:52. Melvin’s ascent this track season has been spectacular.  He entered cross country as a freshmen unable to run under 7 minutes for 1 mile. With his sophomore track season only just beginning, he has shown he can now run 2 miles at under 5:30 pace per mile.

The single most impressive performance on the day however was Azael Zamora in the 3200. Azael was determined to attack the 10 minute barrier and did so with very little help. 800 Meters into the race, he was nearly 100 meters ahead of 2nd place. He lead from gun to tape and stopped the clock in a massive PR of 10:05.14. This moved him into 7th on the school’s all time list in the event.

Overall it was a fantastic day for the Comets. They will now head to Evergreen High School on Thursday 3/15 to face an exceptionally strong Cougar team. Evergreen looks to be the best overall team in the division. The Comets will look to improve their marks ahead of a tilt with Prospect on 3/22 that should be very competitive.

Thanks for reading,

-Benny Reeves

Comet Alumni At The Next Level

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James Lick Alumni Left to right: Daisy Nava (Class of 2017) Hector Ramirez (Class of 2016) and Daniela Camacho (2015) at the San Francisco State Invitational in Golden Gate Park 

As a school, one of James Lick’s primary goals is to increase the number of Comets who graduate from James Lick and attend college. I’m proud of the fact that every senior member of the cross country/track team in the 4 years I’ve been coaching has either gone on to college or taken a career pat immediately. This past year for example, 3 different Comets graduated and joined the military.

One of the greatest sources of pride for our program however, is seeing XC/track athletes graduate from Lick, and then move on to compete as runners in college. We allow anyone who wants to join the team to join, and we do not make cuts. It goes without saying that this policy is not present in college programs. Only the top cut of HS runners will compete in college at any level, and a far smaller percentage will do so at a university.

This is the first year since I’ve been coaching that we have James Lick alumni actively competing in cross country at the university level. Two years ago, Daniela Camacho and Karan Singh both joined the De Anza team, and were key members of the squad with both sides making the community college State championships. Karan was my first runner to go run the mile under 5 minutes, ending senior year with a solid time of 4:39. Daniela I’ve discussed in blog posts at length. She still holds school records in all 3 distance events,running a 5:27 1600 in her heyday and was a 3 time CCS qualafier in cross country.

Daniela helped De Anza win the 2016 Coast Conference championship in track and field. Last year she was joined on the track team by Andrea Ortiz. Andrea set the James Lick school record in the 300 hurdles, running 50.19. Andrea and Daniela both scored points to help De Anza win the 2017 coast conference track title as well.

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De Anza 2017 Coast Conference Track Championship Team. JL Alumni Andrea Ortiz (bottom left) and Daniela Camacho (3rd from left, top row). 

Hector Ramirez is currently training with San Francisco State University though he is not racing yet. Hector was a quality member of the James Lick team, captaining the 6-1 2016 team. His most impressive PR in High School was his 17:36 5k at the Stanford Invitational.

Finally, we have Daisy Nava from our most recent graduating class. Daisy was more successful in track than in cross country. She was a BVAL qualifier in the 800m and a key member of the cross country squad for her 2 years in the sport. She is now running for UC Merced.

She had her first ever college meet in Golden Gate Park and got off to a great start by running 7:46 pace for 6k. This matches her best HS pace ever for a longer distance than she;s ever raced. Daniela was in the same race. After her two years at De Anza, Daniela transferred to Notre Dame De Namur and is a member of their scoring team.

These Comet alumni were great members of the team for us, and they continue to make us proud in college.

The Comet team of 2017 will run the Watermelon Run/ Alumni Race on Friday September 9th in preparation for STAL 3 at Montgomery Hill on October 4th.

Thanks for reading,

-Benny Reeves

Comet runners looking strong as meets approach

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The team’s fastest runners about to begin the North Rim Time trial 

The 2nd week of school just ended for James Lick, and the XC team is rapidly growing in strength. The summer training period saw a small but dedicated group of around 12 runners practicing regularly. On Friday 8/18 however, we had over 40 athletes at practice, and nearly 20 freshmen alone, always an encouraging sign.

We always start the year with a pair of time trials in the first 2 weeks, a timed mile (mainly to give the newcomers a starting point that is easy to understand) and a timed run over the North Rim trail. The version of north rim that we use for time trials is longer and harder than our league race version. At 3.03 miles, the difficult course takes longer to complete than any course the team will race on this year. This makes it an excellent time trial in my opinion.

Nobody looks stronger than co-team captain Azael Zamora. Azael had a tremendous base period in summer training and is looking to have a huge senior year if he can continue to carry and build on his current form. Azael ran a PR of 17:54 for the course. He is only the 2nd athlete to run under 18 minutes on the course in our 8 years of using it, and he is the first to do it at the beginning of the season time trial. Inteus Castro-Lopez was the 2nd runner in at 20:17, a solid time considering the last minute nature of this years trial.

On the varsity boys side, the 4th and 5th runners have been the need since we began summer training. A few young runners look ready to step up. Sophomore Mark Orpia was the next boy in at 22:06, a 30 second PR from his end of season time last year. Fellow sophomore Hugo Marquez came across in 22:15 for a 2 minute PR as well, 7 minutes better than his beginning of the year time trial as a freshmen. Sandwiched between them was junior Jose Limon in 22:10. Jose was our top sprinter in track, taking 2nd place in the frosh/soph division of the willow glen invitational in the 200m, before losing his season to a hamstring injury. He joined XC thus year to work on his strength and build towards a healthy season, and has moved himself into varsity contention.

Arlet Miranda was the 1st girl across in 23:06, the best beginning of the year time by any girl since we’ve used the course. Arlet is highly motivated after an injury plagued track season that nonetheless saw her make CCS for the first time.

Daniel Portillo came across the line in 23:12 a massive 4 minute PR for the hard working sophomore. Melvin Estrada took 40 seconds off his own PR running 23:19. Jesus Deloya ran a solid time of 25:17 despite missing all of summer training. Nien Tran would fight through cramps to run 25:56, more than a minute better than his time from a year ago. Kevin Bach came in faster than last year as well running 26:33 with Jared Resendiz right behind him in 26:34. Omar Fimbres was the lone freshmen boy to run the course, but opened up his JLXC career with a very promising time of 27:04. This is a faster starting time than Hugo, Melvin or Daniel.

Adrian DeLaRosa ran 28:26, following a similar path to Lemon, (Jose Limon’s preferred moniker) working on his strength with his first season of XC after 2 years of track. The 2nd girl to come in was Belen Sanchez in 33:41. It was Belen’s first practice after missing all of summer, and it will take time for her to return to the great shape she was in during track. Freshmen Jahna Kikhia ran a strong debut time of 34:07 and may factor into teh varsity conversation as well. Ashley Preciado was next, leaps and bounds ahead of where she was last year with a 4 minute PR of 34:12.

Kirsten Yutuc and Justine Austria, a pair of sprinters in track ran 37:07 and 37:12 for their first official XC practice as well. Aliana Santos and Susie Peterson both came across the line soon afterward. Erika Camacho was next in 37:40 for her first timed run. Elizabeth Perez narrowly edged out her sister Mariana, 38:04 to 38:08. A few more freshmen spilled across the line next, Emely Lopez in 39:05, Maya Hammond in 41:04 and Estefani Herrera in 44:06. On the boys side Gabriel Garcia and John Pham both finished in the 42 minute range with John Ramirez rounding out the group in 52 minutes. The girls side was done after Xoe Balgos and Siyun Zuo finished in 52:42.

Our initial mile time trial was done on the 2nd day of school, but we did a 2nd one yesterday with many new runners joining. Azael looked very strong in the time trial running 4:56 without any track specific work. Erik Olsvold also ran a decent 5:21 as he works himself into shape. Many of the freshmen showed strong base fitness with their times. Omar ran 6:55 for his first ever timed mile as a HS runner.

Freshmen Jonathan Bradley ran a strong starting time of 7:16 for his first ever day of practice. Brandon Cruz and Jose Ruiz also had very solid debut times of 7:40 and 7:47.

On the girls side the most impressive debut time was by freshmen Xochitl Godinez. Xochitl (pronounced So- Chi) ran 7:31, a time which indicates varsity potential in the short term. Xochitl is the younger sister of Ivan Godinez, a runner who was a rival of many recent Comet  athletes as the top distance runner for Yerba Buena High School and Independence High School as a senior.

Many of the freshmen girls ran mile times in the 9-10 minute range. The boys team is full of depth with a large group of dedicated FS runners and at long last the girls team is poised for the same breakout. If our large group of freshmen runners stay dedicated, from Omar, to Xochitl, to Jonathan to Emely, this team will set the Comets up for success for years to come.

The Alumni Race will take place on Friday September 1st in Alum Rock Park. The Race will begin at 6:00 P.M. Any alumni of the school are welcomed to attend and my thanks to anyone who spreads the word.

The teams first official meet will be on September 7th in Alum Rock Park. We’re just a few weeks away now, stay strong Comets.

I will try to post a season preview within the next week or so, as a first year full time teacher however I am still learning to balance things.

Thanks for reading,

-Benny Reeves