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 Earn First Dual Meet Sweep, 3 Wins Against Sobrato

For the first time since moving up to the ‘B’ division, the James Lick Comets left a dual meet with nothing but wins. The frosh/soph boys, varsity boys, and varsity girls all managed to defeat the Sobrato Bulldogs.

The conditions at Sobrato were very windy, but unlike on our home track, the events were run with a tail wind, rather than a head wind. If a wind gauge were present, the times/marks in some events likely would not have counted. Regardless, the Comets achieved over 50 PRS, the most in a single meet for the Comets in this century.

The meet began with the girls 4×100. The girls team of Lisbeth Galdamez, Kirsten Yutuc, Natalie Rem and Yeimili Adame ran 56.02 to win the event. The bulldogs were done in by a mishap at the 2nd exchange.

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Kirsten Yutuc takes off after receiving the baton from Lisbeth Galdamez

It was the first win of the season for the girls 4×100. The varsity boys lost to the Bulldogs, but ran a seasons best 47.44. The team of Salvador Lopez, Raven Alcantara, Jose Limon and Geovanny Campos accomplished the feet.

The girls 1600 saw Arlet take 2nd place for the team, behind perennial CCS qualifier Emily Harris. Krystal Tran ran a PR, breaking 8 minutes for the first time. Azael Zamora won the varsity boys 1600 with Melvin Estrada taking 3rd. Erik Olsvold ran a seasons best 5:15, despite the windy conditions. Brandon Cruz and Jose Ruiz combined for a 1-2 result in the frosh/soph 1600.

Valeria Cortez ran a seasons best 17.39 in the 100 hurdles to win the event for the 6th time this season. Yesenia Martinez took 2nd in 18.93, just .06 off of her PR. Natalie Rem ran a PR of 19.32 in 5th. Cody Huoch broke the 17 second barrier for the first time, clocking 16.93. Rudolf Ocampo made a solid debut in the event clocking 19.37 in 2nd place. Jo-Jo Bradley ran a PR of 20.93 to win the frosh/soph version of the event. Luis Escamilla and Dakota Castro-Lopez took 2nd and 3rd.

In the girls 400, Yeimili took 2nd place for the lady Comets. Lemon took 2nd for the team on the varsity boys side. Jerricho Habon won the frosh/soph boys 400 in 59.20, breaking the 60 second barrier for the first time. Many Comets on the day ran more than a second off of their 400m PRs due to the wind, this indicates that Jerricho is capable of running a bigger PR if he gets the chance before the season ends. Hugo Marquez also ran a small PR of 1:04.38.

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Jerricho Habon contesting the 400m run

The 100m dash was where the team saw the best improvements spurred by the wind. Natalie Rem won the event in 13.49, by far the fastest James Lick Comet 100m time of the past 8 seasons. Only 1 other lady Comet has broken 14 in that time, and that was Maria Mendoza running 13.99. While Natalie was aided by the wind, the wind does not account for the massive improvement she managed from 14.10 to 13.49. By comparison, Kirsten took 3rd in 14.10, taking .12 off of her previous PR. Lisbeth was 4th and missed her PR narrowly, as did Susie Peterson in 7th. Natalie as just a freshmen, is the best triple jumper, and 100m sprinter the team has had in a decade. Time will tell just how far she goes.

Valeria Gonzalez ran a massive PR of 14.72, taking over a second off of her previous best. Aliana Santos ran a PR of 15.61. Araceli Mejia and Chantrea Thach both ran under 16 seconds for the first time, clocking 15.49 and 15.99 respectively. Maria Sanchez (17.11) Lara Ventura (17.22) and Yyana Guevara (17.38) all clocked massive PRs.

In the varsity boys, Raven and Geo ran 12.11 and 12.12 huge PRs for the sophomore duo. With dedication and good health, this duo could take the Comets to great heights next season. Raven also netted a point for the team with his performance. David Bejines ran a big PR of 12.58, as did Austin Swank who ran 12.95. Chris Okoro, Isaak Herrera and Jaime Gomez ran seasons bests and Josafar Gomez ran a huge PR of 13.18. Josh Merin cracked the 13 second barrier for the first time to take 3rd place in the frosh/soph 100. Dakota ran a PR of 13.74 as well.

Arlet took 2nd place in the varsity girls 800 and Ashley took 3rd in a PR of 2:50.56. Mya Hammond ran a PR of 3:05.08. Erika Camacho also ran a PR, stopping the clock at 3:30. Azael won the varsity boys 800 and Erik took 2nd. Brandon and Jose once again provided a 1-2 finish in the frosh/soph boys.

Kirsten won the 300 hurdles in 54.36. Yesenia ran a full second PR of 57.95 to take 3rd. Valeria G also achieved a PR of 59.64 in the event. Cody won the varsity boys 300 hurdles, Rudolf took 3rd. Jo-Jo, Luis and Dakota swept the frosh/soph boys 300 hurdles.

More PRs followed in the 200. Justine broke the 30 second barrier, finishing in 29.93. Valeria C took 2nd in a big PR of 30.36. Aliana broke 32 seconds in the 200 for the first time. Araceli and Yyana both ran PRs as well. Misael took 2nd for the varsity boys in a seasons best 24.81. David took 3rd place. Austin, Joseph Benitez and Isaak all ran PRs, with times of 27.12, 28.28 and 28.88 respectively.

Arlet and Belen took 2nd and 3rd in the 3200. Belen only narrowly missed her PR. Azy, Melvin and Inteus CAstro-Lopez combined to sweep the boys 3200. Jerricho won the frosh/soph boys 3200.

Both varsity 4×400 teams won with near season best times. Sal, Cody, Misael and Lemon ran 3:48 in the boys 4×400 to take the win. Justine, Kirsten, Yeimili and Arlet ran 4:42 to win the girls 4×400.

The field events yielded perhaps the best results of the day for the team. Valeria C won the girls shot put in a PR of 33-7. Alejandra Ceron took 2nd in 33-5. Charli Chircop 3rd in 32-1.  Many other Comets threw PRs in the shot put. Adriana Marcelino threw the shot 21-11, Keara Medina and Kiely Leal threw it 21-1 and 21-0. Neither girl had thrown over 20 feet before. In the boys shot put, Josh Garcia had a very strong toss of 42-9. A PR by almost 2 feet, to win the event. Daniel Medina took 2nd in a seasons best 36-10. Jesus Venegas threw a PR of 29-0.

Similar strong results were had in the discus. Josh threw a huge PR of 108-4 to place 2nd. The girls trio had huge breakthroughs as well. Charil threw the discus 118- 1, extending her own school record by a remarkable 9 feet. Valeria threw the discus 112-8, beating Charli’s school record of 109-3 just minutes after Charli did. Alejandra finally broke the 100 foot barrier, chucking the discus 105-8. The Comets are now one of only 3 teams in the entire CCS with 3 girls over 100 feet in the girls discus, (Mills and Santa Clara are the other two).

Lyndel Ventura earned a pair of PRs in the horizontal jumps. She went 15-3.5 to take 2nd in girls long jump and Yesenia took 4th in a strong debut of 13-3. Rudolf and Raven took 2nd and 3rd in the boys long jump. Natalie took 3rd place in girls discus behind a very strong Sobrato duo and Lyndel took 4th in a big PR of 31-0. In the boys triple jump, Cody got a long awaited PR, going over 40 feet for the first time with a leap of 40-3. This moves him to 8th in the BVAL rankings. Sal took 2nd in the event for the Comets. Jo-jo and Josh went 1-2 in the frosh/soph shot with small PRs of 33-4 and 31-8 respectively.

Lastly, the Comets saw a few PRs in the high jump. Jo-Jo went 5-2 for the first time to win the frosh/soph boys high jump. Jo-jo figures to be a solid Comet high jumper for years to come as justa  freshmen. Yesenia cleared 4-6 to win the girls high jump, a PR by 2 inches. Lisbeth took 3rd in 4-4, matching her PR.

When all was said and done, the Comets won all three divisions.

Varsity boys:  JL: 71  S: 55

Varsity girls: JL: 79  S: 48

Frosh/soph boys: JL: 56  S: 44

The Comets improved their combined varsity record to 4-8 (2-4 on both sides) and the frosh/soph boys improved to 4-2.

A few Comets will compete at the CCS Top 8 meet this Saturday. Following that, the Comets will head to Oak Grove for their final dual meet of the season on April 26th.

Thanks for reading,

-Benny Reeves