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 Prove They Belong At Their First Ever ‘B’ division finals: Lady Comets Finish in 2nd

2018 was all about one thing for the James Lick Track Team: “Prove We Belong.” After spending all of the BVAL era (since 1996) in the ‘C’ division, 2018 marked the Comets first ever season in the ‘B’ division of the BVAL. Two consecutive girls division titles made the move warranted. I wanted to move up, but I’d be lying if I said that I was positive it was the right move. The 2018 ST division finals proved that the Comets are ready for this next step. The team outperformed their rankings all meet, with the girls ending the meet in 2nd place, and the boys in 5th.

After Day 1, the Comets were in 2nd place on the girls side, while the boys were in 5th. That was though after only 4 girls finals and 5 boys finals.

Day 2 of finals began with the girls discus. This had been the Comets best event all year, and the three headed monster of Valeria Cortez, Charli Chircop and Alejandra Ceron showed why. The girls combined for a 1-2-3 finish, with Valeria taking the division title with a throw of 109-0. Mariah Santos threw a 7 foot PR of 86-3 for 6th place. This meant that in a single event, the Comets combined for 27 points! This is one better than the total  discus points from last year in the ‘C’ division. This is the most points in a single event from a league/division championship meet in school history for the Comets (based on my admittedly incomplete records). This will be a hard total to ever top. The only event where any team outscored the Lady Comets discus throwers, was the boys triple jump, where Evergreen combined for 31 points.

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Valeria Cortez hurling the discus in warmups

The great start to the meet got things rolling for the Comets, but more good things followed soon after. In the girls 4×100, the team of Lisbeth Galdamez, Justine Austria, Yeimili Adame and Natalie Rem combined to run 53.85 and finished in 6th place. This is the fastest James Lick 4×100 team on records in the 2000s. The fact that the team was made up of 3 sophomores and a freshmen bodes very well for the future.

The boys 4×100 team of Geovanny Campos, Jose Limon, Misael Herrera and Raven Alcantara had an equally strong performance. They ran 45.88 to take 5th place and book their ticket to BVAL finals next week. This is just the first time since 2002 that the Comets have run under 46 seconds for the 4×100. Like the girls, no member of the team is graduating.

The boys 1600 was next. Azael Zamora snatched 4 points for the team with a 5th place finish. Inteus Castro-Lopez ran a seasons best 5:02.95 and Melvin Estrada finished his season in the event as well.

In the girls 100 hurdles, Valeria Cortez took home her 2nd division title in a row. After winning the ‘C’ division title in 2017, Valeria summoned up a strong run of 16.88, her 2nd best time ever to take home the victory. You don’t see too many athletes win titles in both the discus and the 100 hurdles. Valeria is in fact the first Comet to win two division titles in the same season since Ruth Lebeau in 2007. Hers wasn’t the only strong performance in the race however. Yesenia Martinez ran a PR of 18.43 and pulled off a 5th place finish in the process, meaning she will also compete at BVAL finals next week. Susie Peterson finished in 7th in 19.11, the 2nd best time of her career. The 16 points the Comets nabbed in the 100 hurdles was more than any other team.

The next Comet to compete was Natalie in the 100. She ran 13.73 for 7th place, the first Lady Comet to score at division finals in the 100 in years. Natalie also took 5th place in the gilrs triple jump, another BVAL qualification for the team. Kirsten Yutuc took 8th in a PR of 30-11. Lyndel was the 3rd jumper for the team, but she only managed a leap of 29 feet.

Salvador Lopez lead the Comets in boys long jump, going 17-8. Rodolf Ocampo also contested the event for the team. In the girls high jump, Yesenia and Lisbeth matched their PRS, doing 4-6 and 4-4 respectively. Yesenia managed 8th place with her performance adding another point to the team total.  The final field event for the Comets was the boys Shot Put. Josh Garcia managed 5th place with a throw of 41-0. Daniel Medina ended his career at JL with a toss of 36-0. Josh Merin also competed for the team.

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Yesenia Martinez clearing the bar at 4-4 

Arlet Miranda had to scratch the girls 800 due to injury concerns that are all too common for Arlet. On the boys side however, the team saw Erik Olsvold take 6th in 2:08.37 and Jerricho Habon ran a PR of 2:12.88. Erik has had a very strong end to the season. After injury took his 2017 XC season, Erik was not able to start running until March of this season. He made rapid improvement, and the 2:08 clocking is only 1 second off of his PR. Erik looks very much poised to rebound his senior year.

The girls 300 hurdles saw a PR for Kirsten. Kirsten took 3rd place in 51.80, just the 3rd girl in school history to run under 52 seconds for the event. Cody Huoch matched Kirsten with a 3rd place finish in the boys 300 hurdles. He ran 43.11, the 2nd best time of his career.

The girls 3200 was next. Belen Sanchez ended her season in fine fashion, running a massive 31 second PR of 13:15.40. She battled all the way in and managed 1 point for the team in 8th place. Ashley Preciado ran an 8 second PR of 13:41 as well. Jessica Cervantes contested the event for the 1st time, running 15:34.

The girls 4×400 team ended the meet battling their hearts off in a bid to make BVAL finals. The team had to settle for 6th place in a seasons best 4:34, but they put forward a great effort. With Arlet out due to injury, the team had few backup options. With all the pressure that stepping in for Arlet would entail, the Comets turned to none other than Valeria Cortez to run on the team. Valeria had never run the 400 before, but we knew going in that she was the kind of warrior we needed to give us a shot. Valeria ran with a  ton of guts, managing a 71 second leg for the team, but the team finished .4 seconds behind Sobrato for the coveted 5th spot at BVAL finals.

The boys 4×400 ran their best race of the season by far as well. Sal, Cody, Lemon and Misael combined to run 3:40.74, the 2nd best James Lick 4×400 of this decade. They took 4th, meaning they will get the chance to try to run even faster at BVAL finals next week.

When all was said and done, the team scores were as follows:

Girls: 

  1. Evergreen 141.5
  2. James Lick 95
  3. Lincoln 87
  4. Prospect 83
  5. Piedmont 67
  6. Pioneer 47
  7. Sobrato 42
  8. Oak Grove 32.5

Boys: 

  1. Evergreen 254
  2. Pioneer 113
  3. Piedmont 70
  4. Lincoln 59
  5. James Lick 44
  6. Oak Grove 37
  7. Prospect 28
  8. Sobrato  7

It was a very successful meet for the team and a total of 17 Comets have earned themselves one more week of competition.

The team will take to BVAL Finals at Westmont on Thursday May 10th. The team will chase some final PRs, and will try to send as many athletes as possible to CCS Trials the following week.

Thanks for reading!

-Benny Reeves