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 compete at Toro Park in Earlybird Invitational

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Coach Raul Lopez, Inteus Castro-Lopez, Azael Zamora and myself after the Earlybird Invitational.

The Comets took to Toro Park in Salinas for the Earlybird invitational on Saturday September 16th. This is typically one of the most competitive invitationals, especially with all races in Toro Park in 2016 being cancelled due to fire damage. Toro Park and Crystal Springs are now the alternating hosts of the CCS finals XC meet. This year CCS will be held at Toro Park, making a run over the course a kind of CCS preview meet, and very important to CCS caliber runners.

The meet began with the freshmen girls race. Xochitl Godinez lead the team in a solid time of 24:58. Matching her 8:19 mile pace from Alum Rock a few days ago, despite Toro Park being a slower course (in terms of pace and total time). Jana Kikhia likewise had a very impressive race by her standards. Jana ran 26:16, not only a better pace than her league race time, but a better time as well! Jana’s pace of 8:45 nearly equals her performance of 8:43 pace on the 2.13 mile Golden Gate Park course. We have a long layover till our next league race course on October 4th. We have high hopes for these two freshmen girls. My personal hope is that they will both run under 8 minute pace for Crystal Springs come league finals.

Mariana Perez ran 29:10, going under 10 minute pace for the first time in her career. Francine Estranero rounded out the freshmen girls in 32:04, a better pace than she managed at the league race as well.

Jonathan Cortez once again lead the freshmen boys with the best race of his young career. He ran 20:22 for his first full 3 mile course. Again, I think a runner of Jonathan;s caliber should be able to run about 1:20 faster for a STAL league race than they can run at Toro Park. This indicates to me Jonathan can aim for under 19 minutes at Montgomery Hill in a  few weeks, compared to the 19:50 he ran at Alum Rock this week. Jose Ruiz had a solid race as well, running 23:27 for his first 3 mile. Jose is making a case to be moved up to Frosh/Soph for STAL 3.

The Sophomore races displayed more of the team’s young runners. Ashley Preciado lead the group running 27:02. Justine Austria was not far behind in 27:21 and Kirsten Yutuc came across in 28:48. The Varsity girls started this season at STAL 1 with 2 girls under 25 minutes and only 3 girls under 27 minutes. I’m hopeful that by the next league race, the Comets will have 3 girls under 23 minutes and another 2 under 25 minutes. Our young girls may not be the most talented group, but they are determined to outwork other teams in the pursuit of success.

Mark Orpia ran a very strong 18:38 to lead the sophomore boys. This shows Mark should have a good chance at running under 17 minutes at STAL 3. Hugo Marquez ran 20:14 and Nien Tran and Jerricho Habon ran 21:19 and 21:22, adding depth to the team. Brandon Cruz came across the line in 24:19, and Luis Ecamilla ran a very well paced race running 24:54. Luis only a few weeks ago was struggling to run 9 minute mile pace and he is now rapidly approaching the 8 minute pace barrier.

The junior girls race had the team’s top 2 runners. Arlet Miranda’s season so far has been a struggle but we are hopeful that she will be able to turn it around with hard work over the next few weeks. She ran 23:46 for the course. Belen Sanchez ran 24:47 a solid time, especially after missing Thursday with knee pain.

Jose Limon ran 19:50 to be the fastest Comet on the day to that point. Despite Lemon’s background as a sprinter, he has quickly grasped the nuance of pacing in cross country.

The senior girls race saw Analilia Regla lead the team in 27:39, a solid performance as she works her way back to full health. Aliana Santos also had a solid performance, running 28:29.

The most anticipated race on the day for the team was the senior boys race. Azael Zamora has his mind set on qualifying for the State meet and he produced a performance which shows him to be threat to do just that. Azael ran the best race of his career, running 16:37 for a massive 2:20 second PR from his Sophomore year. Azael placed in the top 40 overall out of more than 1,000 runners on the day, and his time narrowly missed the school record of 16:33 set by Jose Gutierrez in 2002. Evan Franco of Branham (1st place at STAL 1 and STAL 2) and Dylan Ellis of Prospect (2nd place at STAL 1 and STAL 2) ran 16:55 and 17:02 respectively. This should give Azael newfound confidence to compete for the win next league race. Inteus Castro-Lopez had a strong day as well running 17:59 for a nearly 40 second PR. Cody Huoch ended the team’s day with the best performance of his career running 21:31 for the course.

Overall it was a very strong day for the team. The team will now look ahead to the rescheduled Alumni Race/Watermelon Run on September 29th. This will decide who will run on what team for STAL 3 on October 4th.

Thanks for reading!

-Benny Reeves